As a mild change of pace here at ALS, I thought I’d run you through the books I read whilst I was away, and share my thoughts thereof. First off, a couple of things I believe: anyone who wants to be a good writer needs to first be a good reader; anyone who claims they have ‘a favourite book’ isn’t to be trusted; and finally, young Suits will learn more about how to be better at their jobs by reading Updike, Roth, James and Marquez then they will in Whipple, Herd (personally, I’ve always harboured a soft spot for Earls’ first book, which is essentially about a banana) or Ogilvy on Advertising. Leave the ‘Advertising and Marketing’ books to the Planners – they love that shit.
So, to my reading holiday. I’ll start with the only advertising book in the pile – Matt Beaumont’s ‘e2’. If you work in advertising and haven’t read ‘e’ then you’re really missing out, and whilst the follow up lacks some of the energy of the first one, it’s still one of those books you have to read. Beaumont, as you might expect from a Creative Director, can’t write Suits particularly well, and Planners are patently a total mystery to him, but he sure can write brilliant Creatives and management. It goes without saying that it’s very funny, and it goes without saying that some strands are much more affective than others (some of them, it has to be said, are utter nonsense), but I was genuinely surprised to find myself getting a bit emotional about one of the characters as I came to the end of the book. These are cartoon creations, but some of them come with a pretty sizeable cartoon heart. Go read.
Richard Ford’s ‘The Sportswriter’ had come highly recommended from somebody whose opinion I respect, so I was pretty disappointed to find it cold, emotionless, contrived and utterly lacking in any kind of heart. Ford’s clearly a very good writer, and I could appreciate the craft of it, but it was all pretty joyless, and ‘Independence Day’ and ‘The Lay Of The Land’ made the journey back home unread.
The same was very much not the case with John Updike’s ‘Rabbit’ books. This was my first experience of Updike, having always looked to Roth for my ‘Contemporary American Fiction’ fix, and I can now gleefully admit that I’d missed out. For the unfamiliar amongst you, there are four volumes of Updike’s ‘Rabbit’ books (‘Rabbit, Run’, ‘Rabbit Redux’, ‘Rabbit Is Rich’ and ‘Rabbit At Rest’) each written and set a decade apart, and dealing with the life and times of the eponymous Rabbit, a high school sporting legend and local hero raging against the fading memory of his glories, and his family and friends, and I can’t recommend them strongly enough. Rabbit is far from a sympathetic character, but Updike writes him with such a wonderful mix of frailty, fury, insecurity and arrogance that you just can’t help but care. These are incredibly human books, and incredibly involving as a result – and also, at times, extremely funny. The way in which they were created means that you’re not just reading the story of Rabbit’s life, you’re reading the story of America in the second half of the 20th Century, and it makes for a subtle, involving and addictive read. Finishing ‘Rabbit At Rest’ was quite a big moment – there was a genuine sense of loss as I realised I’d never get to read a Rabbit book for the first time again. Anyway – the ‘Pomposity Sensor’ is ticking, so I’ll move on.
To balance the amount of middle-aged naval gazing literature I’d brought out with me, I dipped into Wodehouse from time to time – a couple of hours spent dashing through the merry travails of Jeeves and Wooster were hours pleasantly passed. It lightened the mood and it made me laugh out loud, and sometimes that’s a very important thing.
I’ll dash through the rest now before I bore you all terminally. Victoria Hislop’s ‘The Return’ was just about smart enough to sit slightly above your standard holiday puffery (though not miles above), and Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s ‘The Angel’s Game’ was Garcia Marquez re-imagined by somebody who is distinctly lacking in soul. Not a bad book by any means, but as a Spanish novel dealing with preternatural themes, it’s playing in a pretty tough league, and it struggles. Geoffrey Household’s ‘Rogue Male’ on the other hand (an old-fashioned ripsnorter of a tale, following our protagonist as he attempts to avoid being captured after a failed assassination attempt) is bonkers, and brilliant. And finally, of Roth’s ‘The Human Stain’, an achingly intelligent book, all I’ll say is that it’s one of Roth’s finest. That should be all you need to know. And finally, from time to time, I dipped into Louis MacNeice - 'Snow' and 'Sunlight On The Garden' are worth the price of the collection on their own.
So there you have it – read Updike, Roth, Wodehouse and Beaumont. When it comes to Richard Ford, don’t believe the hype. But, most importantly, just get reading – proper books. Put down John Grant, and step away from Earls. There are far too many wonderful books out there to waste your time reading about advertising. Apart from on ALS, obviously.