Nine Books for Communicators

By: Guest | April 23, 2012 | 

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. 

  • Great list, of which I’ve only read three! Need to get more. My addition, and I’m scouring the back of my brain to find something different. I would suggest Poppa John by Larry Woiwode. A short but really interesting book about an aging soap star, who plays the role of a priest on the soap. As he ages he is dealing with his various personas, and which of them is real.

    • geoffliving

       @KenMueller Another new book that I have not read.  I will be sure to check it out.  Thank you for the suggestion!

  • ginidietrich

    You already know I love this because I can’t keep a secret and I got to read it ahead of time. I’m re-reading A Moveable Feast (Hemingway) right now and it’s both painful and fascinating. He does, indeed, use the same (or several of the same) word to explain something over and over again. I also love Atwood and Morrison. Really good list!

    • geoffliving

       @ginidietrich Ah Paris. I think the Sun Also Rises was written during the Movable Feast period when he was cavorting with F. Scott Fitzgerald.  
      Thanks for the props.

      •  @geoffliving @ginidietrich Hemingway really just wrote the same novel a whole bunch of times. 🙂
        And I love Poppa. 

      • ginidietrich

         @geoffliving Did you see Midnight in Paris? I hated Owen Wilson in it, but it got me back on the Hemingway bandwagon.

        •  @ginidietrich  @geoffliving I loved Midnight in Paris, but liked Owen Wilson in it.
          As for Hemingway, I’ve not read him.  I can’t get over the fact that he is revered for re-writing his works 100 times (possibly an exageration…I’m in snark mode).  To me, that says, he was a really horrible writer who didn’t know what the hell he was doing.  It is like Curt Cobain. I could never respect anyone who needed SEVENTEEN attempts to kill themselves.  To me, it is an indictment of our educational system that a child could come out of it, so stupid, as to not be able to properly kill themselves.  To Hemingway’s credit, he only needed one.
          But, I do highly respect your opinion and if Gini Dietrich says that Hemingway is worth a look, then I can get past his ineptness.  Of course, now I will probably read it and love his writing.  Which is usually how it goes when I form my addled brained and grotesquely uniformed opinions about that on which I rant.

        • geoffliving

           @ginidietrich Yes, I did, such a great movie.  Woody Allen has been on a roll as of late!

        • geoffliving

           @ExtremelyAvg  @ginidietrich I felt like his work varied a great deal and that the criticism was unfair. I actually modeled a failed novel after his Nick Adams short stories. A Farewell to Arms was such a tragic love story.  The Sun Also Rises was the decadence of the 20s. Old Man and the Sea was life. To Have and Have Not was class warfare. Bell Tolls already discussed in the post. Death in the Afternoon was a look at sports via bullfighting. Really just a wide diverse range of themes. 

        •  @geoffliving  @ExtremelyAvg  @ginidietrich “The Sun Also Rises” is my favorite. I went to Pamplona for the Festival of San Fermin with a few friends the summer I graduated high school because of that novel. We tried to recreate as many moments as we could. Rather successfully, I might add. 

        •  @ExtremelyAvg  @ginidietrich  @geoffliving Ha! I had a similar experience with the work of Emily Dickinson. I love her work now, but it took some work and the direction of a professor to get me to that point.

        • ginidietrich

           @ExtremelyAvg  You did NOT just say you don’t respect someone who needs 17 attempts to kill himself. LOL!!! That, literally, made me laugh out loud.
          You will love Hemingway. Trust me on this one.

        •  @ginidietrich Yesterday I began reading “A Farewell to Arms”, because  I said I’d give E.H. a try.  I went into it, as you know, with low expectations (1 star), but after about 20% of the book it is probably a 3 star. I’m hoping it improves by at least a star.

  • I knew I shouldn’t read this post. Now I have to add more books to my reading list.
    I’m trying to think of a good book to add to the list. I’m thinking about Mary Karr’s Lit, but I think it came to mind because of Morrison’s Beloved. Karr’s book is nothing like Beloved – it’s a gritty memoir – so I’m not sure how I made the associative leap. Her style is irreverently reverent. I don’t know how she does it, but I love it.

    • geoffliving

       @Erin F. This is a new one for me!  I’ll have to read it this summer.  Thank you!

      •  @geoffliving It’s good so far. I haven’t finished it yet.

  • I have two choices – one dark one not so dark.; On the dark side of things I would add Misery by Stephen King – I mean, what happens when our “number one fan” gets a bit crazy? We need to have a plan in place to deal with that before we lose a finger or worse!
    My other choice is The Greatest Salesman In the World by Og Mandino. If you have read it, you already know why I think it should be added. 

    • geoffliving

       @NancyD68 Scary!  I already had one flip the mental switch on me. I don’t talk about it online in case he/she/it sees it.

  • Many years ago I strolled into a used bookstore in Iowa City, Iowa, and asked for a book by a dead author.  I was taken to a shelf with Ivan Turgenev and I selected Fathers and Sons.  It changed the way I choose books.  I realized that there is a reason that authors have their books being read a hundred years after they were written and that is they are pretty good.  This isn’t always the case, as I’m reading Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer right now, and I suspect that he had very influential friends in publishing which allowed him his success, because his writing is not dissimilar to a pile of cat sick.  But Turgenev, now he is a keeper.
    I am also a fan of the stories by Rudyard Kipling.  He wrote, “He was twenty years old and suffered from aspirations” in his short story “The Finest Story in the World”.  That is a finely crafted sentence and the reason I read his tales.

    • geoffliving

       @ExtremelyAvg Ha!  I grew up on Kipling Rd!  My Dad well tell me stories all the time from The Jungle Book.  Great suggestion!
      One of my other favorite classic authors is Fenimore Cooper, and the Leatherstocking Tales. Natty Bumpo and in particular the first three books (the middle of which is Last of the Mohicans) were just sweeping and epic in their depiction of colonial America, pure romantcism (in the literary sense), and tough war stories all in one.

      •  @geoffliving I’ve not tried Fenimore Cooper.  I really should.  Thanks for the reminder that it needs to be added to my list.

  • I’ve always been drawn to the work of Philip Roth, namely “American Pastoral”. It chronicles the rise and fall of the Swede, a Jewish businessman in Newark, who struggles with a political revolutionary of a daughter, the broken promise of the American Dream, race relations, and navigating the social pitfalls of the upper crust. I’m long overdue for a re-read. 

    • geoffliving

       @jasonkonopinski That book was sick.  I almost put it in the list.  So tragic, unbelievable ending. Philip Roth generally is the country’s best author of the past 20-30 years, in my opinion!  Great choice!

      •  @geoffliving One of my undergraduate history classes (History as Literature, if I recall correctly) used “American Pastoral” as a text, alongside Henry James’ “Daisy Miller” and Fitzgerald’s “The Beautiful and the Damned”. 

        •  @jasonkonopinski  @geoffliving That sounds like an excellent class. Now I want to reminisce about my literature classes. Quit it, you two.

        •  @Erin F.  @jasonkonopinski  @geoffliving My two favorite college courses on were literature. One was explored journalists turned authors and one of the most heart-wrenching books I have read to date was Hiroshima by John Hersey. The other was more of a film class on film noire but we read a number of crime dramas from the early 1900s that has influenced my reading and movies picks to this day.

        •  @Anthony_Rodriguez  @jasonkonopinski  @geoffliving Argh. Anthony, you’re not helping my cause to stay away from memory lane or a discussion about literature. 😉
          I don’t know how to pick my favorite courses from undergrad or grad school. I have too many. Let’s see. My introduction to Hemingway occurred in an American Modern class; at least, that’s the first time I remember reading his work. We mostly read short stories, so I’m more familiar with Hemingway’s short stories than with his fiction. I’ll always have fond memories of that class because it’s the one that motivated me to double major in English (I added the major to my graphic design one.). It also was the first time I felt like I belonged somewhere, but that had more to do with my professor than with the class itself. 🙂 Other memorable classes were a Southern literature class (Flannery O’Connor!) and one that studied the Holocaust via literary works. I’ll stop there because I could talk about literature for the rest of the day. Those three classes truly are the tip of the iceberg (heehee) when it comes to coursework.

  • geoffliving

    @jasonkonopinski Thank you for the RT!

    • jasonkonopinski

      @geoffliving But of course, my friend!

  • geoffliving

    @mikeschaffer Thank you, sir! @ginidietrich

  • 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.

    • geoffliving

       @Anthony_Rodriguez Two more for my summer reading list!  Thank you. I’ve always wanted to read Life of Pi.

    •  @Anthony_Rodriguez I second Life of Pi, great book

  • geoffliving

    @TaraGeissinger Glad you enjoyed the list!

  • geoffliving

    @arodriguez3310 LOL, glad you enjoyed.

  • 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?!

  • 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. 

    • 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.

  •  @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. 

    • geoffliving

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

  • ColleenM

    The Paris Wife by Paula McClain

    • geoffliving

       @ColleenM Thank you for the suggestion!

  • 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”.

    •  @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.

      •  @Erin F. Yeah, Wodehouse is good Brit satire, poking fun at the landed gentry. The Helprin book is just plain silly, making fun of both British royalty and American culture. And I love Bellow. 

  • ginidietrich

    @ErinMFeldman Hi!

    • ErinMFeldman

      @ginidietrich Hi yourself! 😀

    • ErinMFeldman

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

      • ginidietrich

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

        • ErinMFeldman

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

        • ginidietrich

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

        • jasonkonopinski

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

        • ErinMFeldman

          @jasonkonopinski @ginidietrich Prose poems are a good compromise. 🙂

  • Naumannclature

    @anikamarketer @spinsucks A very diverse list of books!

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

  • The Neon Bible, and Winesburg, Ohio.

    •  @econwriter5 Oh, man, I love Sherwood Anderson. Winesburg, Ohio is a great book!

      •  @KenMueller  @econwriter5 I concur. Winesburg, Ohio is a great book.

    • geoffliving

       @econwriter5 Excellent suggestions. Based on @KenMueller’s comments, I will try Winesburg first!  Thank you!

      •  @geoffliving You’ll enjoy it. I’ve read the book – it’s a collection of short stories loosely tied together via a main character – a few times. @econwriter5  @KenMueller 

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  • geoffliving

    @jeffespo Thank you, sir!

  • geoffliving

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

  • geoffliving

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

    • NancyCawleyJean

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

  • 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

       @brittanybotti I so miss reading fiction all the time.  It’s important to feed your soul, too.

    •  @brittanybotti I hope you decided to read something for the pure joy of it, because I love books, and I want everyone to love them, too. 

      •  @ExtremelyAvg @brittanybotti my fiance made me read Harry Potter I am still traumatized. Reading Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas for the 8th time to bring me back to health.

    • ginidietrich

       @brittanybotti You clearly did not read my blog post about how reading fiction helps your learning, writing, and intellect more than business books. And I say this as an author who just co-wrote a business book!

  • 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.

    • geoffliving

       @jennwhinnem Ha!  I will take that criticism and title and run with it.

  • I would suggest:
    Bloom County
    Calvin and Hobbes

    • geoffliving

       @HowieSPM Bloom County!  Long live, Berke Breathed!

    •  @HowieSPM I love Calvin and Hobbes!

    • ginidietrich

       @HowieSPM What? No Harry Potter?

      •  @ginidietrich  @HowieSPM Bloom County, which was about Iowa City, Iowa.  I work in Iowa City and loved Opus growing up.  I also like Harry Potter.

  • geoffliving

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

  • geoffliving

    @PReciousComms @beastoftraal Glad you enjoyed the list!

    • PReciousComms

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

  • 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.  

  • 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.

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