I was a naive kid. When I was younger, whenever I came across books like Rich Dad Poor Dad, I thought that by just reading what’s written inside I will magically become a millionaire. Or, by studying the lessons presented in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, I will transform into a successful business owner who is not holding any sabotaging habits. After all, these books always came with a step-by-step framework that I diligently followed. And while didn’t come close to becoming an ultra-rich entrepreneur, like these titles promised, how my life turned out eventually, which is not bad at all, is thanks to my reading habit.
I actually used to despise reading. My parents were constantly shoving books in my face and forcing me to read literature that didn’t even interest me closely.
The books I had to read according to my folks during my teenage years were either part of my school curriculum or titles that were famous years ago. Of course, like every self-respecting teenager trying to look cool, I rebelled against these rules and did the only thing I could – I stopped reading altogether.
Somewhere deep down though, I knew that reading was good, but spending my time studying historical novels related to my country, or fact-heavy encyclopedia-like hardcovers didn’t seem practical to me.
Probably it’s because I grew up playing video games, or because my brother and I collected choose-your-own-adventure type of books when we were younger. But I always assumed that I should get some sort of outcome when I was reading a book. A book should help me learn a skill, conquer a territory, slave a dragon, and in way level up.
Sadly, this wasn’t the case with the novels that the school system imposed on me. These books were only throwing isolated facts that were not related to my existence here and now. That’s why I was careless about literature when I was a teenager.
Fortunately, later in my life, I re-evaluate my relationship with the libraries.
Things changed when I found out about the existence of the applied psychology category. At least that’s how the libraries of my country label the self-help genre. I was thrilled. Books that can help you master a skill? It sounded magical.
That’s when I found titles like Think and Grow Rich, Influence, Outwitting the Devil, and similar mind-transforming hardcovers. To me, these books looked like volumes full of spells – filled with practical advice that can change your life when you apply them.
That’s when my reading journey began.
To this date, I’ve probably read more than 150 books. 100 of these titles are carefully categorized and summarized here on my site.
I learned a lot from these books in terms of skills and know-how. But I also learned something that I believe is more valuable – how to approach reading.
When I first started reading, I picked the books that were in front of me – sort to speak. I always grabbed the most talked-about books, thinking, that they hold all the answers in the world.
Now, I know that the best-sellers section doesn’t include the finest titles. Also, I know that reading alone, or reading piles of books, is only half of the battle. I spend a lot of time before I decide what I should read. My approach to books and what titles I should read is completely transformed. But most importantly, I do my best to implement what’s mentioned in the titles I read.
In this article, I’ll share with you 10 thoughts after reading 100 books. The goal is not only to help you become a better reader and better book-picker, but also to share with you some insights about how books can change you for the better.
So, here are 10 things I learned from reading and later summarizing 100 books.
There are a lot of exceptions. For example, books like Atomic Habits or The Laws of Human Nature are nice examples of how good work pays off and how word-of-mouth has the power to bring good literature into the hands of millions of people.
But in general, best-selling books are created with the wrong initiatives.
As strange as it might sound, the usefulness of the content for the authors of best-sellers is not the most important thing in a book – it’s the desire to make money. What I found out is that they usually grab a bunch of blog posts from their site, put them in one place, and call it a book. This means that the content is absent from real meaningful research. You’re basically paying (not always, but a lot of times) for content that’s already free but this time it’s on paper.
Most best-selling self-help books are full of vague conclusions, offer no value whatsoever, and can be summarized in the following sentence: “You can do it!”
Why they are successful then?
If you trace back the wide success of these popular books, you’ll spot that the author is someone who has a large online audience. And when you have a network of people who are following you online, the success of your book is guaranteed.
Also, if the above is true, the publisher will invest a lot of funds to market the book. This basically means that the success of the book relies on the large email list and social media following of the author – the distribution channels – not on the actual content.
Therefore, such books, best-selling books, should be approached with caution.
2. Read Foundational Books – Often Mentioned in The Bibliography Section
I used to skip the bibliography section of the books I read. You know, the part in the back of the book where the author lists the titles he used in the creation of his work or such that somehow influenced his project.
Now, I can’t wait to check this section so I can add new additions to my to-read list.
Once you spend enough time investigating in this rarely explored section of the back of the books, you spot patterns. You see how the same titles are cited again and again.
And once you read some of these books, you get to see why they are so frequently mentioned in the corner of the most successful books that are full of vague action tips – because these rarely-mentioned by big sites books are the real deal. They are full of insights and valuable thinking patterns that can change the way you approach life.
For example, if you want to increase your productivity, you will surely find a lot of self-help books that promise to boost your overall performance. But if you want to get why you procrastinate, really understand why your body is now one with the couch, you should read Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.
If you want to find meaning in our crazy world and escape the modern dogma of consumerism, you’ll surely stumble on less than favorable titles like The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari, or Girl, Wash Your Face. But if you really want to understand how meaning is formed and what does it take to find your course in life, you should read The Evolving Self by Robert Kegan and/or To Have or to Be? by Erich Fromm.
Sadly, people don’t want to read these books.
They don’t have enough “social status” and sharing them with others won’t inspire a lot of interest from your peers towards you.
It’s kind of like in the tech industry. You know that a regular phone, a device that costs around 500 bucks will do the job perfectly. But no, you want the latest iPhone because this is what people really value and expect to see.
That’s why we spend our time digesting famous books. We are more interested in impressing others when they check our reading list, not so much ourselves.
3. Good Books are Usually Hard to Get
Hard to read, full of words you don’t really understand, these are usually the best books – especially in the field of philosophy and psychology.
At first, if you decide to explore such titles, you’ll blame the author for not using simpler words and for not expressing himself better. And if there are long-winded sections where you don’t get what the premise of the idea is, you’ll most probably ditch the book and find something else to read instead.
But these elaborate creations full of complicated phrases are what you need to level up your thinking.
Surely reading a novel where you can predict what will happen next feels good. But real learning comes from books that flex your mind and prompt you to think about the argument the author is making.
This is something I only recently realized. Before, I was cynical about hard to get books. That’s why I rated one of the most cited books poorly – Thinking, Fast and Slow.
When I read it 2 years ago, I considered it unrelentingly tedious and pretentious. But the book wasn’t the problem, I was.
My assumption was that books have to be easy to get. Now, after reading more than 100 books and summarizing most of them, I know that’s not the case.
A good book doesn’t have to be easy to understand. A good book should make you stop and think about what is said inside. To confuse you and make you re-read the same passage again and again. If the pages inside don’t prompt you to think and even make you feel lost at times, then you’re not reading the proper title.
4. Figure Out What You Want to Learn First, Then Search For a Book
Most people approach reading the wrong way. They don’t think about what they want to learn and master, they simply read books that are in front of them. Best-selling books, or books recommended by their peers.
This approach is fine if you simply want to relax and unwind from your busy day. But if you want to improve in a specific area, you shouldn’t pick the title that’s sitting on the most popular reading list. You should, first, figure out what you want to learn and then go to the library with a clear goal.
That’s usually how we approach pretty much everything in life. We don’t hop online with clear goals in mind. We surf the net hoping to find “something” that will entertain us.
But as the famous English children’s fiction writer Lewis Carroll put it, “If you don’t know where you’re going any road will take you there.”
Want to learn how to evaluate your current or next business idea? Read, The Mom Test by Rob Fitzpatrick.
Steer away from reading books just because they look cool. First, think about what you want to learn. Then, search for titles that will help you achieve your goal.
5. Do Your Future Self a Favor and Take Notes
The more you read, the more you forget what you’ve read. That’s why taking notes is essential for retaining knowledge.
Thanks to my note-taking process, I was able to summarize over 100 books. And that’s just part of the benefit.
I turn to my notes every time I need an idea about a new article. As every writer, I too experience the so-called creative block. The inability to come up with something good to write about. Thanks to my notes though, every time I freeze when I write, I open my notes. That’s why currently, the problem is no longer related to, “I don’t know what to write next!” – I have plenty of notes – it’s, “what should I write for?”
Even if you don’t consider becoming a blogger, a writer, or something related to writing words on paper, your notes will help you nonetheless.
You can turn to them at times when you need a dose of inspiration. You can revisit them so you can remind yourself about the importance of habits, investing, or meditation.
You never know how you can actually use them down the road. That’s why it’s best to have them.
6. Books Will Only Show You The Way
I regularly read book reviews. Not because I’m a fan of rants by strangers online, even though they are often quite funny, but because I want to see if the book I’ve selected is worthy of my time.
Of course, even some of the world’s greatest books are not protected from the harsh criticism from the internet mob. Sometimes the critics are on spot and quite accurate in their assessment, but in most cases, they attack the writer for the wrong reason.
These – let’s label them book trolls – have wrong inclinations about how a book should serve them. In a way, they want the book to do the job for them. Somehow, they’ve convinced themselves that after reading the title, their life will magically fix itself.
But as we all know – at least the people reading this post – books are only guides, they don’t summon little gnomes that fix your finances or clean your apartment. They can only give you different ideas about how you can make adjustments in your life so you can reach a better state of existence.
The other pattern I see in 1-star reviews is that people take the information too literally. They think that the advice mentioned should be executed as-is. And when they try, and they don’t see the same results, they get furious. These people don’t allow their imagination to contribute to the process.
What worked for the author surely won’t work for you. We’re all different. You should focus on figuring out the essence of the information and be flexible when applying the insights.
7. The More You Read the More You Want to Read
Aristotle famously wrote, “The more you know, the more you realize you don’t know.”
Based on my experience with books, I can rephrase the quote above and say that, “the more you read, the more you want to read.”
Maybe that’s why I’m such a bookworm. A single book can answer questions and help you find solutions to certain problems. But it also introduces you to new ideas and problems.
You become aware of your ignorance and the thirst for knowledge and understanding becomes your guiding star.
In the nonfiction world, every book is based on other books. Authors usually spend years gathering insights from other titles before their work appears on the shelves. That is why reading is like a drug for the curious. You see other books mentioned and you want to read them too.
And while this is a good habit, it can also have devastating effects.
Reading is just part of the equation. You should also make time for doing.
8. It’s About Taking Action, Not About Reading More Books
The book industry is booming. Every year, according to UNESCO, there are around 2.2 million new titles published worldwide each year. That’s a lot of paper.
And with each new title published, the chances of getting lost in the library increase. What should I read now? What should I read next? What is the best book on X?
But these are wrong questions to start with. If you really want to make progress in your life and improve in the areas you want to progress, you should focus more on doing – actually practicing what you read in popular titles – not burying yourself deeper in paper.
For example, personal finance is a popular category in the finance genre. There are a lot of different best-sellers in this section along with articles that offer a wide variety of selected titles that promise to lead you to success.
And although popular finance books have different approaches, and all offer interesting advice, they have the same base lessons. Investing and personal finance comes down to this: spend less than you earn and invest part of your cash. That’s basically it.
That’s why I stopped reading personal finance books. You don’t have to read 10, 20, or 50 books on the subject to realize that the costs should not exceed the gains.
Many times reading just a handful of books on a particular subject is enough to get the idea. Once you have the essence, it all comes down to doing.
9. The More You Read, The More You Distance Yourself From Others
A nasty side effect of a regular reading habit, except probably spending a fortune on books, is a growing resentfulness towards vanity and stupidity.
You become idiot intolerable.
At least that’s how I often feel when I have to explain obvious things – at least for me – to a grown-up.
Works like Toward a Psychology of Being by Abraham H. Maslow or The Evolving Self give you deeper problems to think about. Once you’re exposed to such texts, discussions related to famous pop singers or internet celebrities feel dull, distasteful, and unworthy of your time.
A desire to discuss these books with other people emerges. But if you’re unable to find an audience that shares your interests, you distance yourself from others and you prefer to spend more time on your own. Contemplating and thinking (alone) about the ideas in the books.
10. The Intellectual Gap Between You and Other Increases
With every book you add to your shelf, the intellectual gap between you and other people increases. This doesn’t mean that you necessarily become smarter than other folks. You simply become more aware of suppressing problems that exist in the universe.
You start to see flaws in the system that is trying to control our lives. You find exploits in the human mind. You realize how people are wrongly spending their time and money. But worst of all, you see how these people are not doing anything to make things better for them.
When you see these problems, it’s really hard to unsee them. You spot flaws in people and in organizations at the very early stage of your interaction. But you don’t get bothered with the flaws themselves, you know that these are an inseparable part of our lives. You get bothered because most of the people you talk with are not doing anything to solve these problems. They simply add more burden to their lives and avoid taking responsibility by blaming others or the system for their struggles.
At times, I find it extremely hard not to shout to someone when I see him misbehaving. But then I stop and I remind myself that he’s not aware of his lapses. Sadly, trying to lecture this person never helps.
I’ve come to the realization that you don’t have to convince someone of something. This will only worsen your relationship. The best you can do is to steer him towards the right direction where he can (potentially) learn about this himself.
Some Closing Thoughts
Historically, reading books has been adopted by the masses primarily based on criteria that I have no interest in promoting: pleasure and desire to make a quick buck.
Most people read hoping to get outside gains. First, when you read for pleasure you are solely interested in gaining something out of the book that will feel pleasant here and now. Also, you most probably pick famous books so you can make more people like you. Secondly, famous get-rich-quick titles are popular because we tie our self-worth with our net-worth. We want more material possessions, that’s why we so eagerly want to make more money.
I’m certain about the above because I was also a victim of this mentality.
But after reading more than 100 books, I realized that reading is not about getting outside gains. It’s primarily about taming your inner demons and finding comfort in your own skin. Once you start accepting yourself the way you are, eventually, positive consequences will follow.
Lastly, I want to mention that picking the right book is of great importance. Just like the food we eat impacts our bodies, the information we regularly intake can either upgrade us or destroy us. If you don’t know where to start, I recommend checking my book summary collection or my recommended reads lists.