After reading Molli Megasko’s “The Top 10 Fiction Books Every PR and Marketing Pro Should Read” and Gini Dietrich’s “Reading Fiction Helps Your Career,” I felt inspired to offer my own suggestions.
Like Dietrich, I was a literature major in college, and see value not only in studying the written word, but in creativity, metaphorical lessons, and storytelling.
Reading these posts made me think of books that seem relevant to today’s online communications conversation.
With that, the 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 ultimate algorithm-based artificial intelligence, their lives would still end up different. And those with the most advantages may have the largest handicaps. It’s a brilliant analysis of semantic technologies, and quite a dystopian look at nano-technology, too. Check it out.
2. “For Whom the Bell Tolls“ by Ernest 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. This book is highlighted because of its wonderful prose and style, but make no bones about it, this story offers a lot 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’ 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 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 if one side won the battle of public opinion? Margaret Atwood’s dark view of a religious state in the former United States has women enslaved, serving society. This is something to consider as political PR becomes increasingly charged with religion and extreme points of view.
9. “Fathers and Sons” by Ivan Turgenev. This is 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 lists need a well rounded number. Perhaps you can help and add a 10th 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.
A version of this post first appeared on SpinSucks.com.