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Nine Books for Communicators

By: Guest | April 23, 2012 | 
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Today’s guest post is written by Geoff Livingston.

After reading  Molli Megasko’s, “The Top 10 Fiction Books Every PR and Marketing Pro Should Read” and Gini Dietrich’sReading Fiction Helps Your Career,” I felt inspired to offer my own suggestions.

Like Gini, I was a literature major in college, and see value not only in studying the written word, but in creativity, metaphorical lessons, and storytelling.

So reading these posts made me think of books that seem relevant to today’s online communications conversation.

With that, following are my nine recommendations.

  1. The Diamond Age (Or, a Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer) by Neal Stephenson. This is quintessential cyberpunk from when Stephenson still wrote novels instead of tomes. This is number one because of the powerful statement it makes about technology and algorithms (for all of you Klout fans). If you gave three young girls with different backgrounds a primer based on the the ultimate algorithm-based artificial intelligence, their lives would still end up completely different. And those with the most advantages may have the largest handicaps. Simply brilliant analysis of semantic technologies, and quite a dystopian look at nano-technology, too. Check it out.
  2. For Whom the Bell Tolls by Earnest Hemingway. When Hemingway was alive, critics considered his language simplistic and lacking intellect. Today, he would be the master of social media updates. Consider how he sets up the book’s plot, “I don’t like that sadness, he thought. That sadness is bad. That’s the sadness they get before they quit or before they betray. That is the sadness that comes before the sell-out.” The Sun Also Rises or A Farewell to Arms could easily have fit in this slot, but I like the tension of a difficult job versus personal honor in this masterpiece.
  3. Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels. A powerful book about two refugees; a boy and his surrogate father. Again, this book is highlighted because of the wonderful prose and style, but make no bones about it, I think this story has more for communications pros. In short, you can’t run from the past. That’s why crisis situations are best addressed with a prompt acknowledgment of errors. The past forms every part of your now, but by embracing it you can make the present a beautiful thing.
  4. Beloved by Toni Morrison. And on the other side of the pendulum we have the brutal past buried. What happens when it is uncovered? The same lesson delivered in terribly painful fashion, but beautifully written with a fresh reminder of America’s clouded past of racism.
  5. Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris. This is a hilarious and rough look at agency life in the post dot come era. Set in Chicago, this agency may as well be yours or mine. Anyone who has worked in a medium to large-sized PR or advertising firm will identify with the ridiculous tales told in Ferris’s entertaining book.
  6. Pattern Recognition by William Gibson. Another agency book, this is the first book in a loosely knit trilogy about the Blue Ant agency from the father of cyberpunk. Lost in a post 9/11 world searching for agency head “Big End’s” crazy request for information about a video, our heroine Cayce Pollard takes us through a bizarre and poignant commentary of today’s Internet culture.
  7. Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan. Imagine if your soul could be backed up and stored in the cloud. Life could continue forever… except one thing: You’d need a chip in your cordial stack to access motor functions, and to identify your soul if the physical body should fail. That also means assassins could forever wipe you from the face of the earth by destroying your cordial stack chip. This premise drives one of the most bloody and violent books in the cyberpunk genre. I loved it!
  8. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. A common differentiation tactic is to carve a niche point of view and own it. This includes fracturing markets and in some cases polarizing them with extreme views. Unfortunately, as a Washingtonian, I see this every day in my home city. But in a world of extremism, what would happen in one side win the battle of public opinion? Margaret Atwood’s dark view of a religious state in the former United States has women enslaved, serving society – Something to consider as political PR becomes increasingly charged with religion and extreme points of view.
  9. Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev. The art of storytelling at its best. Turgenev takes a good plot about generational conflict and makes the story exceptional with style and prose. While Dostoyevsky’s work always had more depth to it, he could never trump Turgenev’s actual writing. As such, Turgenev rivaled him as Russia’s greatest novelist. There’s a lesson there: Know your craft.

Why nine books and not 10? Because not all blog lists need a perfectly well rounded number. Perhaps you can help and add a tenth to the list. Which novel would you recommend to fellow communicators?

Geoff Livingston is an author, public speaker and marketing strategist who has dedicated his career to helping mindful companies and nonprofits achieve social change. He is the co-author of Marketing in the Round with Gini Dietrich, and he blogs here. 

81 comments
Tinu
Tinu

The movie was okay but years before that, the Beloved novel was my favorite Toni Morrison novel, @geoffliving . My favorite being the chapter with the refrain "I am Beloved, and she is mine." It's one of the most misunderstood novels in the world, I believe. I loved The Handmaid's Tale novel, from cover to cover. It was horrific ... and also kind of hopeful in the resistance of some of the central characters. Looking to read some of your other picks since these two are so close to my heart.

Frank_Strong
Frank_Strong

Ah, wonderful.  I clicked this expecting the usual list of suspects and was pleasantly surprised.  I like to consider myself well-rounded, but apparently not well-rounded enough:  I've only read one book on this list -- because Hemingway has a couple worth reading. 

 

If I might offer one recommendation of my own it would be @SPressfield 's "The Profession."  I purchased this on the advice of @thebrandbuilder -- and enjoyed it, found it scary and feasible all at the same time. If you are into news, social media, politics and war -- this (fiction) book is for you.  

geoffliving
geoffliving

@PReciousComms @beastoftraal Glad you enjoyed the list!

geoffliving
geoffliving

@skypulsemedia @spinsucks @ginidietrich Thanks for the RT, sir.

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

I would suggest:

 

Bloom County

Doonesbury

Calvin and Hobbes

jennwhinnem
jennwhinnem

How could you leave off Confessions of a Guidette? Not sure I can trust your judgment.

 

/fist bump from one English major to another.

brittanybotti
brittanybotti

I never read fiction books, mostly because I'm obsessed with learning & being productive, so I feel like reading for pleasure takes away from what I could be learning. Thanks for giving me a different perspective! I'm going to add some of these to my book list. 

geoffliving
geoffliving

@NancyCawleyJean Glad you enjoyed the list. Thanks for the shout out.

geoffliving
geoffliving

@ErinMFeldman @ginidietrich Thanks for the RT on 9 books!

econwriter5
econwriter5

The Neon Bible, and Winesburg, Ohio.

econwriter5
econwriter5

Hemingway's short stories, Hills for White Elephants, A Clean Well Lighted Place, are far better than his novels.

Naumannclature
Naumannclature

@anikamarketer @spinsucks A very diverse list of books!

KenMueller
KenMueller

I also love some good satire, so anything by P.G. Wodehouse is in, along with Mark Helprin's "Freddy and Fredericka" which really skewers many aspects of our culture. Oh, and another fave is Saul Bellow's "Seize the Day".

ColleenM
ColleenM

The Paris Wife by Paula McClain

jeffespo
jeffespo

 @geoffliving I'd add Old man and the Sea to the list... my favorite by Hemingway. Good example of how important victories can be while knowing that the cost can be great... kind of plays into the space we're all active in some way or another. 

Latest blog post: Cartoon of the day

Liz
Liz

I would also posit that Carlos Fuentes 'Distant Relations' is almost prescient in the way that it presents a character that wants to know everything and experience everything and not necessarily give credit to cultures who are longer established. Although the novel is based on culturalism, it truly reflects the generational distinctions that we see in the communication space today. 

Liz
Liz

I have to stick with one of my favs, Dostoyevski and Notes From Underground, a perfect treatise on how humans are never satisfied despite technological advances. Next shiny object, anyone?!

geoffliving
geoffliving

@arodriguez3310 LOL, glad you enjoyed.

geoffliving
geoffliving

@TaraGeissinger Glad you enjoyed the list!

Anthony_Rodriguez
Anthony_Rodriguez

A book I read (or had read to me) on our road trip to summer vacation a few years ago was the Life of Pi by Yann Martel. It is a great tale of survival that has an amazing twist toward the end. I also just finished The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. That one takes you to an imaginative world of magic and love. Both, IMO, are excellent examples of storytelling.

PReciousComms
PReciousComms

@geoffliving Still a lot of reading to do...;)

NancyCawleyJean
NancyCawleyJean

@geoffliving A pleasure, from a fellow English lit major. Hope you're well!

ErinMFeldman
ErinMFeldman

@ginidietrich I think Spin Sucks needs a list of poets. Fiction is taking over the place.

Erin F.
Erin F.

 @KenMueller Saul Bellow? Saul Bellow? I took a class in grad school that was all about Bellow. I believe my research paper explored "Seize the Day," but I could be confusing my research paper topic with the short essay one.

 

I'll have to check your satire picks. I like satire, too.

geoffliving
geoffliving

 @jeffespo Well put, sir.  I think we forget that there is a price to pay. Sometimes a very painful one.

geoffliving
geoffliving

 @Liz Fascinating!  I'll have to check Fuentes out. I also loved Notes from the Underground.  I thought it really did a great job of presenting Dostoyevsky's theories in one concise place.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

@ErinMFeldman I'm not a poetry person. I prefer fiction...which is why it's all over @spinsucks

ErinMFeldman
ErinMFeldman

@jasonkonopinski @ginidietrich Prose poems are a good compromise. :)

jasonkonopinski
jasonkonopinski

@ginidietrich @ErinMFeldman How about prose poems? ;) I bet you could write a helluva haiku or limerick.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

@ErinMFeldman I'm really bad at poetry. Fiction comes easier

ErinMFeldman
ErinMFeldman

@ginidietrich Ah, well, I like both. I just prefer to write poetry over fiction. :)

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