Book overload rant

I’m putting this in the Dr Rant category because I don’t want you to take it too literally. I am being rhetorical; please comment back rhetorically if it pleases you.

I’m also going to generalise sweepingly. Forgive me in advance or give this post a miss. I may just be having an off day.

But for today, I’m sick of business books.

There are too many of them and I can’t possibly keep up.

And now some of the authors are kind enough to send me free review copies. And I’ve been saying yes, like an idiot. So now I feel obliged to read them.

But I don’t want to.

I’m still trying to write a book chapter for the More Space project. It’s a great project. But I’m hating writing my chapter.

So for now, I’ve had it with books. With reading them and writing them.

Why? Perhaps I’m just eating the wrong stuff these days, or my boiler is putting out too much carbon monoxide (not much chance in this drafty old Victorian house).

On the shaky assumption that there’s some good reasoning behind my response, here’s the problem. Business books are a piece of artifice. They have an order and structure that bears no relationship to real life.

They are written, and read, almost entirely as solitary acts. But life is a collaborative act, it’s a series of engagments and encounters with other living creatures. It’s not like a book. It’s nothing like a book.

When you look at the average business bookshelf in a store, what do you feel? Do you really feel excited by the possibilities or do you – like me – more often just feel anxious? Anxious at all these things you don’t know yet, and these wild fantasies about your miserable untransformed business/career/whatever?

There are so many things in my life that fascinate me, make me curious and keen to learn. But not business books.

Oh but everyone says to me, oh Johnnie, you must write a book. You obviously have a book in you. What a ghastly thought. If there is a book in me, give me whatever it is I need to eat to flush the thing right out!

For some reason, we reverence books. We think that if someone has written a book, it means they are in some way smarter or more qualified. As if the weird ability to churn out a book correlates in any way with being an interesting speaker… or a capable manager or whatever.

One of my friends writes great books. But when he describes the torture he goes through, drafting and redrafting, I really wonder why he bothers. Because I could say that his books are a kind of lie. They are beautiful, but they completely misrepresent the process he’s gone through to produce them. And they thus support the fiction of the highly rational world that so many business books imply.

There are a very small number of non-fiction books that I read to the end. Very few indeed. In nearly all cases, they might have something interesting to say in the first third. And the rest just labours the point.

With apologies if you’ve sent me a book recently. This is not a comment on your own lifework. And I will still try to catch up on my reviews!

And no I’m not a philistine. Well maybe I am in denial but I don’t think I am.

And there’s nothing like a good novel.

11 thoughts on “Book overload rant

  1. Joan Eisenstodt

    Most business books do to me what “motivational speakers” do … cause me to break out in hives and wonder how these people get paid a fortune for writing/saying so little. What hunger exists that needs to be filled? Like you, Johnnie, people say to me that I “must have a book” in me (on the meetings/hospitality industry) and I, like you, shudder and wonder what it would take to get it out of me.

  2. David Burn

    If I wanted to evangelize blogs, I’d say books are so 20th century and you’ve already moved on with this blog thing. Plus, think of all the natural resources/paper you’re saving by blogging.

    I do like some business books. especially when they endeavor to tell a story, thereby becoming more of a history book. Where The Suckers Moon is such a book.

  3. Cathy Moore

    Your rant reminds me of a (ahem) book I’m reading–The Tyranny of the Moment by Thomas Hylland Eriksen. One of his arguments is that the information age has made thought too fragmented. He says we rarely build a long, complex thought, like the ones he claims are presented in books. He even tells the readers they should read all his chapters carefully in order and not skip around. He seems to think we need to be spoon-fed an argument and can’t tell if we’ve skipped something important and the argument no longer makes sense. He makes interesting points but seems to assume that the one-way pedantry of a book is always better than a reader-controlled exploration and construction of meaning. The book was published in 2001 and unfortunately doesn’t mention blogs.

  4. Tom Asacker

    I’m a huge reader.I devour fiction like a T-Rex in a bunny hutch. But I almost never read business books. I feel I should, but life’s too short. There are a few I’ve read that seemed useful at the time, but since I’m not in a position to make the suggested changes, what’s the point? Business blogs, on the other hand,I read those daily. For some reason, they’re much more interesting and practical to me–and I find ideas I can actually use.


    Oh Johnnie. I feel your pain. Yours too Joan.

    Just last week, I wanted to toss my own “new” book into the Microsoft trash bin. Number four and it’s becoming less fun (I guess the first IS always the best. Or a least the most memorable.). 😉

    I’m also very tired of the “rah rah!” folks; whether it’s a motivational business author, someone who survived a plane crash or won Survivor, or a former mayor or talk show host. But we’re in the minority. Why? Because celebrity – being recognizable – sells, more now than ever. Joan will be the first to admit that the keynoter’s name – and not his or her content – sells the conference.

    That’s part of the reason why you’re seeing all of these new books. People equate authorship with authority and celebrity. In fact, most business books are nothing more than references to other books (books about books about books about books). And it’s only going to get worse due to new, low cost methods of production, along with blogs encouraging everyone to stop being a cog in the proverbial corporate wheel, take some of their 401 (k) money, and venture out and change the world of business and of work.

    I receive a new business/nonfiction book every two or three days and I too have had just about enough. Although I must confess that I did head over to Amazon to check out Tyranny of the Moment. Thanks a LOT Cathy. I now have a new process, however. I place the books in the shopping cart and go back a week later to see whether or not I’m still interested. Many times, I’m not. All of that being said, writing a book is a great way to flesh out all of ones thoughts and feelings on a subject. It forces you to challenge your own beliefs, as well as discover creative ways to communicate those beliefs. Great topic for discussion! We’re debating it a bit at my blog as well:

  5. "Hello_World"

    If I wanted an epic, I’d read “gone with the wind”

    Johnnie Moore is a tad peeved: …But for today, I’m sick of business books. There are too many of them and I can’t possibly keep up. I was thinking about this just yesterday. For me though, the problem isn’t

  6. Johnnie Moore

    What if you thought of books as conversations, as tools to further the dialogie between two or more people? Don’t read books in isolation, except for your personal pleasure (like fiction, but I am like you and find it hard to get all the way to the end).

    I agree with you that it can be overwhelming, and I wrote one those damned business books. I would love it if it became a catalyst, much the same that other things are in the environment. Over a cup of java or a black & tan, just open one up, read a paragraph and let the conversation happen.

    I did not write my book in isolation, I couldn’t have. And I don’t think it’s very useful read in isolation either.


    It looks as though my rant touched a common nerve… Rich’s trackbacked post added the suggestion that the books are too long as well as too numerous.

    Thanks for the gentle reframe Lisa. Of course what I need to do is just not read these books and feel good about it!

  7. 800-CEO-READ Blog

    Too many business books

    Johnnie says he is tired of business books. I have to admit I have those days too. I have been reading business books for a long time and increased my consumption tenfold in the last year. Many have become…

  8. 800-CEO-READ Blog

    Another take on “How To Read a Business Book”

    Bren at Slack Manager wrote a popular post six weeks ago titled How To Read A Business Book. That post got me thinking about another article I has heard about with a similar title. It was written by Albert…

  9. Laurence Haughton

    Your friend might put him/her self through it because like the host or hostess who serves a great dinner all the hours of torture are worth it to make their guests happy.

    I agree with your whinging about business books, but I have a question. How much of what you’ve read have you actually practiced? A lot of readers collect theories like chachkes… they buy them and leave them on a shelf to collect dust.

  10. Johnnie Moore

    Hi Laurence. Well that question is quite hard to answer. A lot of books put forward generally common sense theories which we’re probably practicing anyway. A small number of books, eg The Power of Now; The Art of Possibility; The Answer to How is Yes… these ones stay in my mind and I often allow them to influence me.


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