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My Winter Reading

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Jon Stewart has emerged as the Soupy Sales of the 21st century. Mr. Stewart is a much more economically viable Soupy than the mid-20th-century one. Jon gets in the neighborhood of $150,000 to throw pies, however metaphorical, in the faces of TV pundits and magazine publishers. Mr. Sales had to pay AFTRA scale to get stars such as Frank Sinatra to play the pieman's bull's-eye. Stewart's last pielike dissing included, if I got the story right, the redeeming social verity that print was irrelevant.

It was a bad moon for the entire medium, as George Lois played to print's masochism at the ANA convention, castigating whomever for putting magazine cover design in the hands of space salesmen instead of art directors.

Then a childhood friend of mine who teaches advertising at a college in upstate New York asked me to give some advice to his class. Instead of flipping off the request with some wiseass Hollis Avenue sarcasm, I sent him a reading list: 10 books that I found helpful, the tacit premise being that since they helped me make a living, they could help others. He replied that my advice was useless, because "today's advertising students don't read books."

I noted back to him that if there is a shortage of readers, it's made up for by an astonishing number of writers. Not to mention co-writers and as-told-to writers and edited-by writers churning out columns and tomes on advertising, marketing and branding, in addition to autobiographies and biographies.

To his follow-up question, "Who reads them?" I answered, "I will."

So here I am, setting off on a two-month reality column with the goal of reading and possibly absorbing as many of the available marketing books as inhumanly possible. Will it be an exercise in self-improvement or just wasted time that keeps me from Dickens and Twain, whom I've never read but would like to? I'll soon know.

To make things coherent, I'm dividing the books into New and Old Testaments. In next month's column, I'll talk about the New; in January, the Old. I'll skim or flit around the indexes of books I've read before, sorta like reviewing for a high school final, but I'll read all the rest cover to cover, without benefit of Cliffs Notes or Classics Illustrated.

Sans-serif type could slow me down, but I already read the Helmut book (beautiful and well-written, but not enough serifs) and assume that other publishers are not into ocular torture for the sake of a good-looking page. Two books in French grace the list, which is a problem since I can't read more than 400 words of French, and all of those are foods, but I'll keep them like the Bible's Book of Micah, which even Pat Robertson probably skipped.

I got a little head start on this self-imposed assignment because I just picked up Donny Deutsch's Often Wrong, Never in Doubt. I started it because I was attracted to the title, the only self-effacing one in this 58-book canon. I finished it because Mr. Deutsch gave more space and credit to Martin Van Buren High School than to his time at Wharton.

It is a little late for me to benefit from Deutsch's wisdom, but I would recommend it to those students in upstate New York if they are having this column read to them. Even if they can't emulate The Donny's style, it helps to know that the manner exists, and they will find it someday in a competitor, a colleague, an employee, an employer or a fellow exiting passenger on the Q43, and they'd better be prepared for it.

I have only one quarrel with one paragraph in the whole book. Here it is. What do you think?

"Men are superior beings. It's that simple. Certainly in business. Give me a choice between a woman and a man with the same talents, I'll take the man every time. Here's why."

Seems odd to stake a position like that in this day and age. Oh, wait. I transcribed that wrong. It actually reads this way:

"Women are superior beings. It's that simple. Certainly in business. Give me a choice between a woman and a man with the same talents, I'll take the woman every time. Here's why."

Much safer, even if wrong. Or right. Or in doubt.

Me, I've never met two people with the same talents. Even Eng and Chang, the 19th-century Siamese twins who lived a long life together unseparated, had different talents. Eng, for example, could not go to his right on a basketball court without first running into Chang. Chang didn't have that problem, but he was never a threat going to his left.

Tom Messner is a partner at Euro RSCG in New York and a monthly 'Adweek' columnist. He can be reached at tom.messner@eurorscg.com.