June 6, 2020

I was an English major in college.

“What are you going to do with THAT!”  my parents asked as they threatened to pull me out of college during my sophomore year.

Thinking on my feet I said: “I guess I will learn to read and write.”

I have admitted previously that while I am not a copywriter I do write copy.

So 40 years later, I got that going for me on the writing front.

On the reading front, the journey hasn’t been as smooth due to what seemed to be conflicting messages from two of my greatest mentors.

Much more on that shortly. First the background.

During college I read all fiction, all the time; and since college I can count on two hands the number of fiction books I’ve read.

Some favorite fiction in recent years:

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand , The Lords of Discipline by Pat Conroy, The Emperor’s New Clothes by Hans Christian Anderson.

Hardly a comprehensive list but some bestsellers at least.

But even these (and the few others I’ve read over four decades) were all “fiction for the purpose of relating to business.” Yes, even The Emperor’s New Clothes.

None were read for pure escape…it felt like everything I read needed to matter and the small amount of fiction I read had to have a bigger purpose.

And note that I am not completely proud of ignoring fiction for most of my working life.

Although it’s not a huge regret either.

However, hearing from some of the best marketers, copywriters and entrepreneurs who give out their reading lists on a regular basis, it’s surprising how many of these super busy people work fiction into their reading list. Obviously it’s not surprising to them and they aren’t as focused on their businesses all the time after all.

The truth is that I listen for their non-fiction recommendations and rush to Amazon; their fiction recommendations are merely interesting and I rarely jump to buy.

Again, I am not endorsing this behavior—but it has become a reflex habit.

Something that’s transitioned me a little, but not necessarily to reading fiction: Copywriters make the best non-fiction recommendations that are not copywriting books—so that’s something I pay attention to at least.

Books like The Purpose Driven Church by Rick Warren (you can learn a lot studying how a church markets itself) and How To Argue and Win Every Time by Gerry Spence (the lawyer who never lost a case).

So I have broadened my reading in non-fiction at leastwhich I am proud of…a little.

Reading is fundamental for two icons…with very different approaches

Only reading non-fiction after college wasn’t because of one of my key mentors, Gene Schwartz.

If I had emulated him, I wouldn’t have gone down the “non-fiction only” path.

But that doesn’t mean I ignored him either.

I’m sure you’ve heard the story (which I often tell) about Gene — who read scholarly journals to mystery novels to literary classics to books on copywriting to magazines on pop culture to everything about modern art…and his favorite newspaper was The National Enquirer.

He read just about everything and anything else he could get his hands on—he was the most voracious reader I have ever met in my life.

If you’ve ever seen Beauty and the Beast (the animated version of course), when Belle finds the Beast’s library (which she was forbidden to enter!), it reminded me of Gene Schwartz’s library, floor to ceiling, shelves upon shelves, stacked with books.

And he read them all—or it seemed that way.

Of course the Beast’s library is a much better visual in a cartoon movie with ceilings that were as tall as a skyscraper…and that is how I picture Gene’s library in my mind today. I can’t help it.

I have two favorite quotes from Gene and why he was obsessed with reading and learning, through fiction and non-fiction, and all variations of both.

This first one describes his love of “the arts” but you could replace “the arts” with anything he read or was passionate about:

“The arts not only imbue our sense of sight, balance, movement, touch and hearing, they also lift our logical minds—the traditional focus of modern education—into the reaches of possibility, invention and genius.”

I believe reading is what gave him the biggest window into his world of enlightenment.

 And trust me, he was enlightened.

The second quote has a “marketing bent” which I’ve shared with you before–and it’s worth repeating again:

“You cannot lose touch with the people of this country, no matter how successful or potent you are; if you don’t spend at least two hours a week finding out where your market is today, you are finished!”

Gene was a prodigious reader for multiple reasons.

Being well read enabled him to do his version of “marketing by walking around.”

To identify his core concepts of Mass Desire, States of Awareness and the Sophistication of Markets…which are the first three chapters of his landmark book, Breakthrough Advertising...is no accident.

He invented these eternal truths in 1966 and they are just as relevant today.

Unfortunately Gene’s path was my road not taken…although I learned a ton from him…and I even teach his way of doing it today as best as I can. Kind of do as I say and not necessarily as I do.

Or just “Be Like Gene” as often as you can.

But it was another mentor, Marty Edelston (probably the most influential business person in my life), who convinced me of another way to get to the same conclusions Gene did.

“Being Like Marty” is not too shabby either. But his approach was quite different.

He said to me, when I was raw and newly out of college, with Shakespeare, Dickens, and Steinbeck swimming in my head:

“Fiction is not worth your time. We don’t need to escape but we always need to learn–through business books. And the only way to read non-fiction business books is never to read them cover to cover. There is probably one thought or one chapter in every business book that is worth reading. Putting that into your computer (i.e. your brain), and then sharing it with the world, is the greatest service you can do.”

This coincided with Marty’s mission: To create a business newsletter that told businessmen how to run their businesses rather than just tell them what was happening at the Fortune 500 companies or who was on the Forbes 400. He did that with Boardroom Reports.

And he was only getting started.

Marty then expanded his universe to the consumer market, through Bottom Line/Personal (and lots of consumer and health books and publications) and changed the trajectory of lives everywhere.

It was now consumer and health books that lead the way for his reading and all, of course, non-fiction.

He shared all he learned with millions. He changed lives and saved lives every day he was alive.

Marty’s philosophy on reading only non-fiction is one that you may or may not agree with—which is fine—but it worked for him and fortunately or unfortunately, I inherited it (but not nearly on his scale of his influence).

Different strokes (i.e. reading lists) for different folks.

While Marty didn’t read fiction, he lived a life story of facts (i.e. non-fiction) that would have been great fiction—if it weren’t true. 🙂

Considering how successful both Gene and Marty were, sharing their knowledge on a wide scale, it’s clear you can get to the same place via different reading lists on your syllabus of life.

Despite going the “Marty route” for the most part, I’ve never forgotten my fiction roots and what I learned from Gene as well.

I actually got some flak over the length of the reading list in Overdeliver…which included books from my childhood, my wonder years, my college career, and my work in direct marketing– so it almost looks like I might be a bigger fan of fiction than I am.

I couldn’t forget books like The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein or Dr. Seuss’ Oh, The Places You’ll Go! to the chagrin of Overdeliver reviewers and readers alike.

Gene Schwartz read everything (fiction and non-fiction and more) because he had insatiable curiosity and he wanted to accumulate and share the most knowledge possible during his time on earth; Marty Edelston only read non-fiction and accomplished the same thing.

And whichever camp you’re in, I hope you agree that this was a tale worth telling.

And reading about.



P.S. Tomorrow I’m launching a new 3-part training series that I think will be helpful for you.

When I look back over my 40 year career, one of the pillars of success has always been having the right people (associates, partners, teachers and mentors) in my corner.

As indicated by my post today about two of my most important mentors, Gene Schwartz and Marty Edelston, taking the best of each and incorporating their values and habits (as much as I can ) into my own routines and learning, was as useful as anything else I could have done on my own.

I’m sure you have mentors like that already—and you can never have enough of them.

The right mentors can help you avoid unnecessary mistakes in life and business, they know how to challenge you when you need tough love…and they can “show” you the way–and not just “tell” you the way.

They teach by doing.

You just need to follow them once you have established that key relationship.

And that’s what this training series is about.

I’m going to be teaching you how to surround yourself with the right people, drill down with the people you are most aligned with, and then seeing how many of those can become your mentors and key advisors over time.

It is strategic…it is not just luck…and it takes time.

And I guarantee it will take you a lot longer—or worse, it may never happen–without this training.

I will prove to you that this training might be the best way (and I believe the only way) to really become rich. That’s with your bank account and with your relationship capital account as well.

If you’d like to get a heads up when the first training is released on Monday June 8th,  just click here.

I’ll also put this entire training into an easy to follow workbook.

So if you’d like to have that as well, just click the link and I will send that to you as well.

Click here today.

About the author 

Brian Kurtz

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