A Warning about Excessive Devotion to Books

by Ryan M. Healy on September 21, 2012

I love books.

My shelves are filled with them.

And I purchase new books quite frequently from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Yet at the same time, I realize books can become a burden.

You may have the feeling (like me) that you’ll never have time to get through them all. Or you may have the feeling (like me) that for all your reading, your place in life has not been improved as much as you thought it would be.

The acquisition of knowledge without application can suck the life out of you.

But the application of knowledge without achieving the expected results may be equally discouraging.

According to the Bible and other historical records, King Solomon was the wisest and richest man who ever lived. He also wrote the most depressing book in the Bible. It’s called Ecclesiastes.

The book begins with Solomon declaring, “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” Some translations render this as, “Meaningless, meaningless! Everything is meaningless.”

After 12 chapters of wise but rather disheartening observations, Solomon concludes with this:

The words of wise men are like goads, and masters of these collections are like well-driven nails; they are given by one Shepherd.

But beyond this, my son, be warned: the writing of many books is endless, and excessive devotion to books is wearying to the body.

The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person.

For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.

I find it interesting that Solomon concludes with a warning about excessive devotion to books and an admonition to keep God’s commandments.

It is natural to think that reading more books will make you smarter, wiser, richer. And in some cases they will.

But perhaps the secret is in meditating on “the words of wise men” that are “given by one Shepherd” — and heeding God’s commandments.

Some food for thought.

-Ryan M. Healy

About Ryan M. Healy

is a direct response copywriter. Since 2002, he has worked with scores of clients, including Agora Financial, Lombardi Publishing, and Contrarian Profits. He writes a popular blog about copywriting, advertising, and business growth, has been featured in publications like Feed Front magazine, and has been published on sites like WordStream.com, SmallBizClub.com, and MarketingForSuccess.com.


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{ 27 comments }

Garth September 21, 2012 at 9:09 am

Ryan…

Agreed.

Too many people buy too many books (myself included) which we never read. It’s the whole idea (started by Dan Kennedy) that he read a book a day. Not sure how in the world Dan pulled that off, because it’s nearly impossible to “speed read” a business book. Ever tried that?

But…

Much of current religion is silly too.

No birth control?
Gays can’t marry?
The man is head of house over the woman?

Good grief.

So your point that because religion says we shouldn’t read books… we shouldn’t read books… is plumb silly.

Ryan M. Healy September 21, 2012 at 9:30 am

Garth – All things spiritual are foolishness to the natural man.

Mike September 21, 2012 at 9:22 am

Garth it doesn’t say to not read books. It says not to wear yourself out reading too many books. Big difference.

Ryan M. Healy September 21, 2012 at 9:31 am

Exactly. Well said, Mike.

Bruce Brodeen September 21, 2012 at 9:22 am

Excellent thoughts to embrace.

I read “The Richest Man Who Ever Lived: King Solomon’s Secrets to Success, Wealth, and Happiness” a few months back and I was SO busy during that reading I felt like it didn’t seep in and pulled it out last week telling myself I needed to re-read and slow down and soak it in.

Certainly, I need to do that but staying focused on Him is going to bring a healthier harvest for the soul.

Ryan M. Healy September 21, 2012 at 9:31 am

Hey, I’ve got that book, too, Bruce! I started reading it, haven’t finished it. Although I have read Proverbs multiple times since my teens.

Mike September 21, 2012 at 9:40 am

Ha, ha, I have that book as well.

I think a distinct issue here is that even though a person reads a book, what really counts is how much of that information they absorb and secondly whether they apply that info.

Garth September 21, 2012 at 9:47 am

We can play semantics here all day long trying to decipher what goofball Solomon meant.

Ultimately, you should do what’s right for you.

And that means not following religion to a “T”. And not using it as a proof element to back up a half baked argument.

Ryan M. Healy September 21, 2012 at 1:58 pm

“You should do what’s right for you… that means not following religion to a T.”

That sounds like a contradiction. Should I do what’s right for me, or should I do what you think is right for me?

(BTW – I’m with you on the religion part. Religions are mostly the traditions of men taught as God’s word. But giving people the freedom to do what’s right for them must necessarily include their right to follow their religion to a T.)

Derek September 21, 2012 at 10:04 am

I love your blog, Ryan, and have learned a lot of great information from you, but this post is well…just terrible. I mean really, stupendously bad.

Getting into a religious discussion on a copywriting site would be almost as silly (but not quite) as stating we should reflect upon the words of bronze age sheepherders, as if there is any intrinsic information therein, while limiting our absorption of real knowledge, so I won’t start.

I will say, however, that, at least with your political posts, they are loosely tied to the business of copywriting (i.e. taxes, etc.). What you’ve done here has zilch to do with the profession, and the primary reason why most people subscribe to your updates.

I don’t care that you’re religious. I don’t care that you’re Christian, any more than I would care that you breathe oxygen, and I would venture to say the majority of your subscribers would concur. But I do care that what you’ve written above has nothing to do with copywriting, and completely lacks the clear-headed logic I’ve come to expect from your blog.

Ryan M. Healy September 21, 2012 at 10:42 am

Derek – Thanks for sharing your feelings. What I’ve written is not to start any kind of religious discussion – merely to point out something I feel is true: excessive devotion to books is wearying.

This is especially relevant to business owners and copywriters because they often feel compelled to read as many books (and blog posts and magazines) as possible, as quickly as possible.

So this bit of advice may provide somebody with the opportunity to free themselves from their “excessive devotion.”

Also: I’m not sure how long you’ve been a reader of my blog, but I’ve written a smattering of posts quoting the Bible. For example:

http://www.ryanhealy.com/whats-worth-more-than-97050-an-ounce/ (published Feb 2008)

http://www.ryanhealy.com/why-we-celebrate-december-25/ (published Dec 2008)

http://www.ryanhealy.com/now-lets-talk-about-jesus/ (published Dec 2010)

But I’m not stingy with quoting other sources either. I’ve written blog posts based on the advice of Gary Halbert, Drayton Bird, and many others.

And on Monday I’ve got a post already written that quotes Felix Dennis, the founder of Maxim magazine. (Ah, the horror! First he quotes Solomon… and then a pagan like Felix Dennis!)

I’m teasing, of course.

As always, thanks for reading. I don’t expect everybody to agree with my perspective, and that’s okay. :-)

Ryan McGrath September 25, 2012 at 7:32 am

Please don’t ever read the Robert Collier Letter Book…

(Interesting enough, if you do read the Robert Collier Letter Book…or just about any book written before Materialist Superstition became our State Religion … and you’ll see lots of Biblical references. Like Shakespeare or Greek Mythology, the Bible used to be part of our shared Western Civ Culture, and the written word of the day — from literature to advertising — reflected it.)

Mike September 21, 2012 at 11:06 am

I think this post is of value.

A statement from the Bible is as valid as something out of Shakesphere. It’s a part of Western Civilization. We are Western Civilization.

And the point is a germaine one indeed.

Endless reading wearies the mind. There’s no point in endless reading unless it’s going to produce results for your career/business and unless you apply those lessons you read.

And don’t get caught up in the guilt of feeling like you must constantly read just because some guru said so.

Ryan M. Healy September 21, 2012 at 2:03 pm

Thanks for your comment, Mike.

Whenever I quote the Bible, I get replies from people who are upset by it.

But I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t happen if I quoted the Talmud, Quran, Bhagavad Gita, or just about any other spiritual book.

For the most part, the non-religious respect other religious texts — except for the Bible.

Mike September 21, 2012 at 2:22 pm

You are exactly right about that Ryan. With quotes from those other sources you’d be considered “enlightened.”

If someone wants to go deeper down the rabbit hole, the way I see it is look at what works. Look at old England. One of the absolute most powerful nations on the planet. Tiny little England. Their literature, philosophy, religion obviously worked out well for them.

My belief is you model success, what works. Solomon was arguably the richest man on Earth. He’s worth quoting.

It’s funny to me how people are quick to look for the answers thousands of miles away when those acres of diamonds are right in your own backyard.

Mike September 21, 2012 at 2:26 pm

I’d also add that from personal experience and that of my collegues reading dozens of books assembly line style is tiring for the mind. It also has to be balanced against spending time with family. “Sorry baby, daddy can’t play with you right now, he has to read still another book on marketing.” Or, “Nope, I can’t call on prospects or work another marketing campaign to get leads, I really feel I need to read still another book on marketing.”

Stephen J Barrett September 21, 2012 at 8:04 pm

Hi Ryan

Greetings from New Zealand, and thank you for your comment: very timely and true – I wondered why I was so tired some days! It wouldn’t be the work or the age or the 101 ideas I have to consider before breakfast every day… it’s those book ;)

God bless

Stephen
propverbs 3:5,6

Takiyah Noble September 21, 2012 at 11:17 pm

I personally love this post. It loosely reminds me of the passage from James about faith without works being dead.

What I find about excessive reading is that it can very quickly prevent people from taking action. They learn something they didn’t know and say to themselves, “This is evidence that I clearly didn’t know enough. This is why I need to read more before I go out there and do something, ultimately making a complete fool of myself.”

Worrying about whether or not you look like a fool IS VANITY. Often, that vanity gets in the way of service.

On another note, not quite sure what Derek is talking about. I can see the relevance of this post to copywriting. Copywriting, like any other craft, can never full be mastered, just understood on deeper levels as the practitioner becomes more advanced and sophisticated in the craft. This truth will always remain, no matter how well they write copy or how much money they make writing copy. Therefore, it’s very easy to get caught up in learning the technical side of the craft. But, by being overly concerned with the technical aspects of the craft, one can interfere with the practical side of the craft.

Having an excessive amount of book knowledge often prevents an excessive amount of practical knowledge (because there’s only so much time in a day). The wisest men, including Solomon, understood the need for balance.

Ryan M. Healy September 24, 2012 at 7:20 am

Thank you, Takiyah, for such a well-written comment! :-)

Terry Dean September 23, 2012 at 4:40 am

Hi Ryan,

You told people to read less and you quoted the Bible. How dare you Ryan? :)

It’s an excellent post.

My synopsis.

“Read less. Implement more.”

It’s not how many books you read. It’s how many actions you take based on them. That’s true of the Bible also. It’s not how many times you’ve read it, but how well you’ve implemented it.

Ryan M. Healy September 24, 2012 at 7:24 am

I know… how dare I? ;-)

Thanks for the comment, Terry.

With the Bible, I would also say it’s how well you’ve understood it. Throughout the ages, poor understanding has led to the implementation of the wrong policies/actions. The Crusades and Salem witch hunts come to mind.

Markus Allen September 23, 2012 at 4:43 pm

When I found out that Francis Bacon was the “alleged” son of Queen Elizabeth, the “alleged” author of the King James Bible, the “alleged” pen name for Shakespeare AND most likely the “alleged” founding father of Freemasonry (still working on confirming this 100%)…

… I realized most books are propaganda. And I threw almost all of them away last year. I’m not kidding.

And you should have seen this library I had – I could have made a MINT selling this stash. Instead, it went into the trash bin where it properly belongs.

In fact the only books I kept are by author friends (in the rare case that they’d visit my home) and references books (like how to fly an airplane).

There are only a handful of people’s books I’d read. That’s why I read this blog. Everyone else is a borderline fraud… giving advice without taking their own advice.

This is exactly why the vast majority of marketers I know fail. Because they’ve been lied to by the “gurus” and the “experts” they’ve been brainwashed to admire.

I won’t name names (e.g. Dan Kennedy).:>

As a result, my stress level is lower than ever and my bank account is higher than ever.

To “G” or not to “G”… that is the question.

Ryan M. Healy September 24, 2012 at 7:29 am

Hey Markus – Thanks for commenting.

As far as I know, Francis Bacon was the founder of Freemasonry. I have a documentary on the subject. It also confirms Shakespeare was a pen name Bacon used, although this is still speculation. Hard to definitively prove it.

Re: Throwing away books

I remember when James Brausch used to blog in the IM space, he claimed he would burn books in his wood-burning fireplace if they gave bad information/advice.

The good books he would send to blog readers.

I think there’s wisdom in getting rid of the “bad apples” in your library. I’ve pruned a couple hundred books, maybe more, from my library the last five years.

But I still have around 300 books or so — about half of which is fiction and literature.

Takiyah Noble September 24, 2012 at 8:12 am

Markus Allen.
I completely agree with you about that marketers are writing advice that they don’t follow.

I remember someone saying to me, “do you know what all of this ‘guru garbage’ has in common? They don’t teach you or lead you to a single EMPLOYABLE skill set.”

At first listen, it didn’t sound right, but then with investigation, he ended up being absolutely correct. Marketing is a service, which means that you have to use some real tools (no, not a Warrior Special), but rather a CRM, an SBI that allows you to analyze some key performance metrics, a Project Management System, and my personal favorite, a Process Modeling system. That becomes very employable!!
These guru clowns sell Marketing as a product. An info product to be precise. A product, really? SMH.

Alan September 27, 2012 at 5:52 pm

Reminds me a little of this quote from Einstein “Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking.”

Ryan M. Healy September 27, 2012 at 6:16 pm

Great quote! Thanks for sharing, Alan. :-)

Gogo September 28, 2012 at 10:51 am

I read Garth’s comment with interest … I only recently came to realize that my bookaholism which started early in my life, got extinguished about age 10, and re-ignited at about age 23, went into hyperdrive when I came across…

…Dan Kennedy. (Same culprit).

I also heard the comment from an audio cd program and have been an accomplished bookaholic ever since.

Being a believer in the way of the Christ of the gospels, I have also heard the echo of Solomon’s “admonition” about books. It has always irritated me … with it’s true-ness.

Earlier this year, I committed to writing book reviews and summaries of books I read, and creating projects (for myself or clients) out of lessons learned. That has helped me stem the tide of “excessive book reading”. I find that books can provide a somewhat superficial form of knowledge if one gets obsessed with “learning by book”.

Action is a much more superior to learn complex subjects and skills.

Great article.

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