Novel thinking

26 Sep

What are you reading? My question to new students on our courses has been met with a mixed response. There were some surprising answers (could they have known the question was coming?) – but too many blank stares.

Here’s the challenge. If you won’t read, then I can’t help you to write. If you don’t read, then you won’t be equipped to cope with senior public relations roles. Don’t believe me? Then check out the references in Andy Green’s latest book, Effective Personal Communication Skills for Public Relations. The author’s a PR consultant, not an academic, but he reads widely and voraciously around science, business, literature and psychology.

What am I reading? In fiction, I’m in a campus novel groove. Zadie Smith’s On Beauty mixes race, intellect and academic rivalry in a US campus. Before that Tom Wolfe’s massive I am Charlotte Simmons, ostensibly about sex and elitism in a top US university, seemed to me to be a morality tale about a declining civilisation.

You may think fiction has nothing to teach us. Consider this: Zadie Smith’s first novel, White Teeth, first published in 2000, depicted a group of disaffected non-white young men in north London. Their organisation: the Keepers of the Eternal and Vigilant Islamic Nation (KEVIN). The group was more menacing than this satirical name suggests, and in the five years since 9/11 every newspaper and magazine has written about this phenomenon.

12 Responses to “Novel thinking”

  1. Richard Millington 26/09/2006 at 4:53 pm #

    Fantastic post, and I couldn’t agree more. I believe I spend at least twenty hours a week reading.
    At the moment i’m reading Ian McEwan – Saturday, a great character profile novel of a Surgeon living in London. I’m also reading Keith Ferrazzi’s – Never Eat Alone, a book about the value and practicalities of networking. And i’m slowly working my way through Danny Sullivan’s – Long Tail, not such a big fan of this book, it tends to repeat one idea continually. Very useful for case study examples in new business pitches though.
    Additionally I use bloglines to trawl through some 150 blogs (thanks ed!), and skim-read around 30 magazines related to my clients a week. Personally, I only buy The Economist, The Observer, and any publication i’ve contributed a feature to.
    Ah, and both local newspapers here too.

  2. Richard Millington 26/09/2006 at 5:16 pm #

    Chris Anderson’s The Long Tail, not Danny Sullivan’s.

  3. Elizabeth Albrycht 27/09/2006 at 9:08 am #

    I totally agree with you Richard(s)! I am an avid reader, going through a couple of books a week (more if I read in English, fewer if I read in French). This week I am reading two books for reviews: In Women We Trust by Mary Clare Hunt and the Corporate Blogging Book by Debbie Weil. I am reading The Fold by Gilles Deleuze and Being Singular Plural by Jean-Luc Nancy for my philosophy classes (and let me tell you they are HIGHLY relevent for understanding social media, if in an oblique sense) and Etat de guerre by Alexis Aubenque, the second book of the sci fi space opera, La Chute des Mondes. I probably have another half dozen books in various stages of completion lying around too.
    Reading is a absolute key to success in PR, as far as I am concerned, given our jobs are often about seeing patterns and connections. How can you do that if your interests are limited?

  4. Amy Golledge 27/09/2006 at 12:27 pm #

    “Is it just me or is everything shit? The encylopedia of modern life” is my reading material at present.
    Its not related to PR
    It will probably never help me in my job/any job, in anyway whatsoever, ever.
    But its humour keeps me sane and provides welcome relief from everyday madness!

  5. Karel McIntosh 27/09/2006 at 7:52 pm #

    I’ve been telling my students the same thing! Why do people run away from reading?

  6. Rob Skinner 28/09/2006 at 7:27 pm #

    We agree: reading widely will pay dividends, quite apart from the pleasure you’ll enjoy. I feel lost if I haven’t got a good book to read on the train between London and Leeds. As a PR person, I love reading about language. One of my favourites is a small book called The Complete Plain Words by Sir Ernest Gowers. I bought it in my final year at university in 1984 and still find it compelling.

  7. MeShaL ALKhaLDi 29/09/2006 at 3:33 am #

    The problem is not in what we read. i think the problem is in what quality of the books we read. Also new generation is not interested in reading.
    Authors may need a little bit of public relations to make the people’s desire for reading.
    Generally, for me, the last novel i read is for an American author called Dan Brown and his famous novel “The Da Vinci code”. The novel is enjoyable and very interesting, I read it in my mother language which is Arabic. because If I read the English it may took me months to understand.

  8. Richard Bailey 29/09/2006 at 8:17 am #

    Thanks for the many comments above. As so often, the content in the comments is richer and more thoughtful than in the original post – and I made use of this input in a lecture this week. I hope some of my first year students will take note.

  9. Strive Notes 29/09/2006 at 9:17 am #

    September 29th: this weeks top 5

    Friday has come around quickly once again. So here this weeks round up of some of the blog posts Ive enjoyed the most this week.   
    1.  Todd Defren looks at the Paradox of Excellence: The better you perform, the more invisi…

  10. Warren Allan Johnson 04/10/2006 at 1:04 am #

    Having a personal plan for life-long learning requires developing a framework for ongoing reading as part of one’s career development in public relations. Some recommendations are provided in this post:
    Discovering a Key Strategy for Personal & Career Development

  11. Marcel Goldstein 19/10/2006 at 9:16 pm #

    Amen, Richard. Many graduates are bringing poor writing skills into the PR workforce, and many senior practitioners feel the burden of being their writing “teachers.” Not unlike a secondary school teacher, I too often edit grammar, word choice, sentence structure, spelling, etc. Sometimes, the writing is plainly incomprehensible. This is inefficient for society in that the clients and agencies pay for this process. In addition, we are so weighed down with the remedial that strategic, creative work is sacrificed by this time lost. As a practitioner, I would like to add to the discussion that you have started and underscore how much this is really impacting us in the profession.
    I agree entirely with your solution: everyone in our business should be active readers or this isn’t the business for them. I would only add that not any reading will do and students must seek out and role model the best quality writers. Suggestions among nonfiction writers, as a start: John McPhee, Paul Theroux and Joan Didion.
    Thanks for your efforts.

  12. Richard Bailey 19/10/2006 at 10:33 pm #

    Thanks for the comments. It’s a blogging tipping point when then comments contain more value than the original post. I don’t often reach this point, but have done so on this topic.

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