Hard-to-find insights in long-form journalism

by JC

What if you only used books to solve very urgent practical problems, and otherwise you didn’t read? How would you read those books? Would you try to read them from cover to cover? Or would you skim the books for the information and insights that offer solutions? Wouldn’t you be more selective?

Do you feel bad for not reading the whole dictionary? If you’re like me, you crack it open with a very specific problem in mind: “What does this word mean?” You’re not looking for anything besides a particular definition, and you’re not easily distracted by all the other information on the page. You find your answer and get back to whatever you were doing.

Ideally this is how we -or rather, I – would use Google, but that’s not often the case. Links lead to links lead to more links, and by the time you remember what you were doing in the first place, you’ve lost a lot of time. Oftentimes it’s easier to click-through than it is to decide whether links are worth clicking at all. I wonder, can you go a whole day without falling for a hyperlink?

The dictionary is designed for easy referencing, as are books like How To Read A Book and How To Win Friends and Influence People. The authors have taken care to organize their ideas and label them in ways that help the reader find what’s needed. But what about insightful books that are written as long-form journalism? Influence and Malcolm Gladwell’s works come to mind. There are gems of insight in these, but you have to weed through the excess of storytelling to find them.  Since the authors haven’t provided or highlighted their books’ structures, you have to do it yourself.

How do you mark these books to make them easier to reference?