The 4 types of non-fiction books. (And which kind to read more of in 2015.)

There are four types of non-fiction books in the world.

1. The books you buy but don’t read.

2. The books you read but don’t finish.

3. The books you finish but don’t engage with.

4. The books you engage with.

Most people are like me. They have shelves full of books they buy but don’t read and books they read but don’t finish. A lot of people actually finish reading books but they never engage with them. Why? Because the scale of difficulty increases as you go down the list.

It’s easy to buy a book. You can do that on Amazon with one click or a trip to the library.

It’s a little more difficult to actually read part of a book but it’s not that hard.

It’s harder to finish a book than it is to start one. That takes dedication and time allocation and effort.

The last category, books you engage with? That’s the hardest of all, because in order to engage with a book you actually have to change some part of your life.

It’s one thing to read a book about changing bad habits, it’s another thing entirely to quit biting your nails. It’s one thing to read a book about blogging, it’s another thing to actually blog. It’s one thing to have an author tell you that there are deliberate things you can do right this second to improve your relationships, it’s another thing to actually pick up the phone and call someone.

The other thing that makes it difficult to actually engage with a book is that you don’t get to speed through life change. Engaging with a book takes longer than just reading a book. I could read 30 books this year, but I can’t engage with 30. That takes time and effort and commitment.

So what’s the pay off?

Why do the effort? Why work hard? Why take the time?

Because your life is worth it.

Because when you engage with a book you’re never the same again.

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield changed the way I looked at the world.

The Dip by Seth Godin is the reason I didn’t quit my first blog.

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott taught me I could be a writer.

The pantheon of books I’ve engaged with is small, but it’s special. That shelf is not full, but the impact of it is greater than the hundreds of other books I’ve just read.

This year, I wrote a new book that focuses on moving you from reading to doing. That’s the chasm most people never jump over when it comes to books. Whether you read it or not though, I encourage you that if you want to change your life in 2015, put in the work.

Read great books, but when you do, take great notes.

Read great books, but when you do, ask them great questions.

Read great books, but when you do, change something about your day.

Don’t fill your shelves with great books while leaving your heart empty.

What’s a great book that you engaged with?



About Author

Jon Acuff
Jon Acuff


  1. Jon, “Start” was a book like this for me as well as Seth Godin’s “Tribes”. I appreciate the honesty today. I hope we all engage our hearts this year!

  2. The book that has stuck with me this year is Making Piece by Beth Howard. It’s a memoir, and she told a brutally honest story about her husband’s death and how she processed and grieved through it. A former professional pie baker, she shares how making pie and sharing it with family, friends, and strangers helped her. Giving and loving others was the key to work through the grief.

    I started baking pies. Since finishing the book, I’ve lost count of how many pies I’ve baked. It’s been a stressful year, and I have found that the act of making something from scratch is incredibly calming. It grounds me and makes me slow down. And my family and friends aren’t complaining either.

    • Frank

      Amazing…I do almost the same thing, except it is cupcake and cakes. I use the tasks to bring me back to normal. I made a lot of friends for Christmas, but now I am bit burnt out on baking. Yet it is a great source of happiness for me and smiles from the recipients. Must find alternate avenues of happiness, so I won’t burn out on one thing, and not have another way of keeping me happy!

      • Alternate avenues of happiness. I love it! That’s what pie baking has become for me. Writing and music are my usual avenues, and it’s been nice to take a break from that to play with flour and butter.

  3. Diane

    Thou Shall Prosper by Rabbi Lapin. Great Jewish wisdom!

  4. Andy Fernandez

    The Go-Giver

  5. Dan

    Two books:

    “What’s Best Next” by Matt Perman (great look at the gospel and work)
    “The Complete Stories” by Flannery O’Connor (don’t make the mistake of thinking only non-fiction is worth our time and engagement)

  6. For me it was a combination of your book “Start” and the experiment which was pure engagement by immersion. Also the book “You are a Writer” by Jeff Goins, which told me to start writing a story I have been telling verbally for years. Every time I told it, people would say, “You need to write a book!” I would always answer that no one would read it. I read those two books in the same time frame and a little over a year later, I have a blog with over 60,000 views and a book in the works. I have also joined Jeff Goins Tribe Writers which will help me get further along. I would say I have had more movement in my life this last year due to these two books. So thank you Jon & Jeff!

    My third book is “Unbroken” I watched the movie last night and it brought back all the feelings from reading the book. We are capable of more than we give ourselves credit for and if Louis Zamperini could survive all that he went through then we can do this. “If I can take it, I can make it!”

    • Virginia

      “Unbroken” had a profound impact on me also. The thought that this one man kept going through one trial after another..each one worse than the other. He saw the worst of humanity and yet through faith and forgiveness, eventually embraces life to the fullest to his dying day. That twinkle in his blue eyes and smile on his face during the interviews about the movie shows the true depth of human love. I wish I could have met him.

  7. Amber

    Replenish by Lance Witt

    A must read for anyone who charges the mountain and forgets to stop and breathe, relax and rest.

  8. All three you mentioned were transformative for me. Some others have been…

    Five Levels of Leadership by Maxwell
    – in my opinion this is his biggest contribution to leadership development. I come back to it over and over when I find people not following my leadership. It doesn’t take long to see where the trust breakdown is when this filter is applied.

    On Writing by Stephen King
    – So much good stuff in this little memoir and guide to writing. Biggest take away was the need to “kill your lovelies”. It has made my writing and public speaking exponentially better than it was before I read it.

    What Got You Here Won’t Get You There by Marshall Goldsmith
    – So many of the bad habits he lists had become a part of my life. I talked more than I listened. I interrupted people. I used heavy doses of sarcasm. I thought I was the smartest person in the room. This book literally has transformed my leadership and more importantly my character.

  9. The book I most engaged with in 2014 was “The Circle Maker” by Mark Batterson. I had read this previously, but when I picked it up again this year I made sure to take notes and engage. Absolutely outstanding. There were definitely others this year, but Circle Maker tops the list. I can’t wait to read “Do Over” in April.

  10. James Sommers

    Jon, This is spot on! Amazing post. Very timely for me.

    I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. I read a lot of books. I listen to a LOT of podcast. But do a REALLY engage with them? If I’m honest, no! Not always. Maybe it’d be better to read LESS and DO more with what I/we read. Lets say a book a month. But read slower. Takes notes. Engage.

    I’ve been thinking as well about action! I could read all the books in the world, goto seminars, listen to 15 podcasts a day but if I don’t CHANGE, if I don’t take ACTION then what’s the point? Books should be a catalyst for change.

    Anyway, great post and I can’t wait to not only READ DO OVER but engage with it.

  11. I had a few favorite books I engaged with this year but my favorite was The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. It was my ‘Unbroken’ of the year. This book is about a little girl who went through what most of us as children (thank God) will never experience. She had a fierce determination to succeed.

    She came through it all and is now a successful writer.

    • Andrew H

      I read The Glass Castle for a memoir writing class, it is amazing. Great book, definitely worth the read.

  12. Lindsay

    Honestly, “Quitter” did it for me. It made me rethink everything and after a rough year I intend to reread it after the first of the year.
    and the book “Love Does” by Bob Goff. Both were extremely eye opening.

  13. GTO

    I am missing out not reading any Seth Godin. I need to fix this.

    Loved “Start”, Jon. No joke. So many actionable steps. Lots of humor. You’ve read it to me more times than I can count.
    (I’m not an avid reader. And I drive for a living. So switching to audiobooks has been a life changer.)

    I’m also a huge fan of “The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle. (Not recommended for a Christian crowd perhaps.) It had a massive impact on my life, more than any other book I’ve read.

    Thanks for the book suggestions, everyone. GTO

  14. Lindsey

    “Start” was the most influential book I read in 2014 for sure. We read it as a group for our office book club. Engaging with Start as I read it made me realize where I want to be and how to be awesome at what I do daily while still working toward my career and life goals. Thanks Jon!

  15. “The Travelers Gift” written by Andy Andrews sent my life in a new direction. I recommend that book to everyone!

    “20,000 Days and counting” by Robert D. Smith is another one I recommend.

    I also recommend “Quitter” all the time!

  16. Grace

    “Let Your Life Speak” by Parker Palmer is probably the most impactful book I’ve ever read, and the first book (aside from scripture) that ever really got inside my heart and produced a change.

  17. Start with Why – Simon Sinek

    The Mulligan – Wally Armstrong and Ken Blanchard

  18. I keep very few books. I re-read even fewer. Exceptions include Start With Why (Simon Sinek), Sandbox Wisdom (Rom Asacker), On Writing (Stephen King), Ripping Point (Malcom Gladwell). All are mainstays on my shelf for different reasons. Another one that changed (maybe even sacved) my life is The Tomorrow Trap (Karen Peterson).

  19. Er, that was supposed to be Tom Asacker.

  20. Frank

    I have read START, reading Before Happiness, and reading The Carpenter. All of these books are really helping me get positive and remain positive. I am returning to real estate after 5 years as the manager of an Optical Business. So going from a weekly paycheck to self-employed. The change is necessitated by the fact that I have to care for my aging father and have a career that works around my father’s needs. Real estate is perfect. Getting started in a new community, rather than where I was previously as a real estate broker, is daunting. I have so many ideas, but just can’t decide on what to use to make the first step. I have been getting to know the locals by making a giving away cupcakes. They will definitely remember me! I got that idea from Jon Gordon and Shawn Achor. I am sure it will help, it’s just going a lot slower than I want it to! Re-reading, or engaging in good books, help you see what you missed the first time!

  21. Bruce Baldwin

    After reading Blood Done Signed My Name I realized my adopted state of North Carolina had some serious race relation problems in the past.I was a child growing up in Montgomery during the bus boycott / Martin Luther King era and would like to think that after 50 years most racial discrimination problems are over with in the US.
    The book has reminded me just how bad things used to be and how short 50 years is.

  22. JennieW

    Great Article! I have been pondering eliminating the stacks of books from my home that are constant reminders of books unread, partially read or unengaged with….this will be my permission. Will keep these: Start with Why, Simon Sinek, Leaders Ear Last, Simon Sinek and Today Matters, John Maxwell.
    Thanks Jon, for this post!

  23. Theresa

    “Seeing is Believing ” by Greg Boyd. It is a book I go back to often.

  24. “The Ragamuffin Gospel” – Brennan Manning
    “The Irresistible Revolution” – Shane Claiborne
    “Benefit Of The Doubt” – Greg Boyd
    “Searching For God Knows What” – Donald Miller

  25. Vernice

    Tuesdays with Morie.

  26. Cindy Adams

    “Satisfied” by Jeff Manon
    It’s about realizing you are not made by what you own, and to not let your possessions possess you. It’s about honoring God with your purchases and finances. It’s about having a happy, content home – not just a house full of things.

  27. I read Start last year at this time. I then received your email about a new adventure. Well, what an adventure it was. I have been engaged in Start for a full 12 months now. I drank the Kool-aid, started a new website and have more awesome things planned for 2015. I don’t think I have ever engaged with a book as luck I engaged with yours. Thank you, Jon.

  28. In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day, The Circle Maker, and Love Does remain at the top for me.
    Believing Out Loud: Trading Fear and Defeat for an Adventure with God is life changing for me for several reasons. Sometimes you have to write the book you need to read.

  29. Ted

    War of Art and The Dip are 2 of the 3 Books I’ve actually finished in my life. And it’s probably because they were so engaging, but also concise, and quick. Time is valuable, and nobody gets to the point better or quicker than Steven Pressfield and Seth Godin! Must read Bird by Bird if it is included with those other two!


  30. The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell – the book that actually got me interested in marketing.

    Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks – gave me new insight into how sound interacts with daily lives, and proved how you could really make any sort of subject dynamic.

    Scene and Structure by Jack M. Bickham – one of the driest, but most useful writing books I have ever read. Practically every page has highlighter on it.

  31. “Start” and “Quitter” were great reads this year, as well as “Platform” by Michael Hyatt. They all helped me immensely in my home business.

    However, I think the books that I really have been engaging with the most this year are Winston Churchill’s “History of the English Speaking Peoples.” I like keeping up with the news, but it can be pretty depressing – Churchill’s series has reminded me that history is cyclical and God never lets it get out of control. It has also reminded me that history is just the stories of everyday people – like me. I can make a difference in my world just like they did in theirs.

  32. Sarah

    Daring Greatly, Surviving Survival, and The Thief. (That last one is young adult fiction and one of my favorite stories.)

  33. Jim Taylor

    “Getting Things Done” by David Allen. I hate disorganization but am naturally rushed, busy and disorganized. Weird?!? David’s book laid out a logical plan I can follow just like D Ramsey did for me (us) to become debt-free.

    I’ve been putting together the necessary bits and pieces to put this into action in 2015 and at the ripe old age of 57, this old dog is working on learning new tricks.

    I want to be less harried while working, not worried about work while I’m not, not worried about home when I’m working and have more time for myself and family to do the things I/we want, when we want. When you’re in sales, it’s tough.

    Thanks for asking Jon!

  34. John Baxter

    Mansfield’s Book of Manly Men

  35. Jon- We had to read Bird by Bird in graduate school… it is so true about how it helps people see themselves as writers. Engaging books– Timothy Keller’s Conterfeit Gods, Kinsella’s Iowa Baseball Confederacy, and Brother Andrew’s God’s Smuggler.

  36. “Start” gets me up and going every time I read it. “Wild at Heart” changed the way I saw masculinity and helped me be myself.

  37. Love this! I recently decided to start an online “book club” for just this reason! I wanted to read great books, engage in them, and be able to share and discuss them with friends. Here’s my post about January’s options – http://www.abigailhatch.com/2014/12/27/the-rock-star-life-book-club/.

    A few favorites mentioned in the post – The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown, The Power of Full Engagement by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz, and The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. All books that have changed me, how I see myself, and how I see the world. (Start is on my list to read in January! 🙂 )

  38. Gaylene Carpenter

    For me, this past year the book that changed how I deal with others, especially in the workplace, is The Legacy Builder by Rod Olson. Powerful book written as a parable.

  39. I read Undaunted by Christine Caine last Spring and it was definitely one of those books that started a fire in my heart. After reading it, I started to research how I could help make a difference in the fight against human trafficking. I discovered a local group that fights trafficking in my area and began volunteering for them last summer.

    I’ve read so many books that have inspired me to take the next step in my life. I tend to be a note taker when I read too.

  40. alice

    Daring Greatly by Brene’ Brown. If you dare to engage, it WILL change your life! I used to feel guilty for not finishing a book until I realized that not all chapters in a non-fiction book are equally good or relevant. – Thank you for the post and for the opportunity to respond. I got great ideas from your posters!

  41. I’m reading “Let’s Get Visible” by David Gaughran. As in his book, “Let’s Get Digital” Gaughran offers practical and insightful strategies on being successful in the maelstrom of self-publishing.

  42. Amy

    The Total Money Makeover has changed our life not only financially but spiritually. It has also led to a great deal of emotional growth that our entire family has benefited from.

  43. The Circle Maker and All In by Mark Batterson. They encouraged me and challenged me to keep going through with all the 30 days of hustle challenges. I dared to believe that the dreams in my heart are from God and because of that He will make it so. I just need to work like it depends on me and pray like it depends on God. Honestly those books and our hustle group gave me the perfect balance of both.

  44. Radical by David Platt
    Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers
    The Faith of Leap by Hirsch and Frost
    The Best Yes by Lysa TerKeurst
    Embrace Grace by Liz Curtis Higgs

  45. Thank you Jon.

    Start is one that I read again & again and have recommended over & over

    Thanks for the Feedback by Douglas Stone & Sheila Heen is one this year that has changed my listening skills.

    Catherine the Great CEO started my year off and gave me pause to never think too much or too little of myself.

  46. Wow! This post is RIGHT where I am at. My wife and I were talking just last night and I noted that in 2015 I need to put a great effort on finishing things (which to me includes books that are important). I didn’t even consider the “engaging with” factor. Thank you Jon! I love Quitter and Start. Most recently I engaged with The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson.

  47. I engaged with a few books this year; Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers reminded me why I love my Lord, then I read 5 more of her books that I found at my local library. The series that she wrote about the 5 women in the lineage of Jesus is amazing!

    I got an email from you this week and couldn’t remember who you were. So I went on YouTube and watched a few of your talks. Then I downloaded samples of 2 of your books. I am reading them now. I think I will be getting Quitter.

    The Brainy Bunch: The Harding Family’s Method to College Ready by Age Twelve – changed the way we are homeschooling our kids. For my spirited oldest child it was just what she needed to get motivated. In no way, I am trying to get my kids to college at 12 but it made me realize that we are capable of more things than we realize. At 11, she is doing pre-Algebra and HS level biology.

    The Straight A Conspiracy is another book is revolutionizing my thinking. Realign is another one.

    I tried the Circle Maker but could not finish it.

  48. I have Bird by Bird. It’s been there, unread. Shame on me. January, I’m looking forward to reading The War of Art. 😀 Then Bird by Bird. Promise.

  49. Jon, well said. Great timing as well.

    I “engaged” with a number of books this year. Gary Vaynerchuk’s book “Crush It”, Marshal Goldsmith’s, “What got you here won’t get you there” and Simon Sinek’s most recent book, “Leaders Eat Last”.

    Every book came with its own gems that I have implemented in not only my own life and business but also in the lives of my clients. I read what I need to benefit them as much as it will benefit me.

    Jon, your books are on my list to read and engage with as well. Gratitude.

  50. Jon, I agree, I don’t resonate or feel engaged with every book I read (in fact, I don’t with most books). I did engage with your book, “Start,” with Andy Andrews “Seven Decisions”, and with Chris Gillebilleau’s “The Happiness of Pursuit”. All have made an impact on my life and my thoughts. Your book gave me the courage to look at a bad job situation and change it. Andy’s book made me realize the power that I have to change my own life. Chris’ book has made me really consider what kind of quest I want to pursue (and if I really want to pursue one). Great blog post!

  51. Oh, man…so glad I’m not alone in this! Bird by Bird and The Wart of Art are two of my favorites, too. King’s On Writing is up there for me, too.

  52. “Battlefield of the Mind” by Joyce Meyer. It helped me get free from major clinical depression – something that the Professions told me wasn’t possible! (and I’m medication-free!)

  53. I highly recommend ROOM by Emma Donoghue. I almost stopped reading it because I had no idea what it was about before reading it (sometime I like the surprise), but it was eye-opening.

  54. Samantha McDonald

    “Scream-Free Parenting” by Hal Edward Runkel – Helped change my perspective on how I parent my children.

  55. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People was a real eye opener for me. I approach life differently now that I’ve read that awesome book.

  56. Most books seem to be category 2 or 4 for me; Quitter and Start were both 4’s!