Last week I learned that my young adult novel, The Reckoning, has made it onto a government-sponsored list of 250 books for teenagers. Every secondary school in England will receive their choice of 15 titles from the list, free, as part of a scheme to encourage reading among an age group whose aversion to it is notorious.
To make it easier for school librarians to choose, the titles are arranged under themed headings: boggle, experiment, explore, fast forward, fear, go wild, imagine, indulge, investigate, laugh, look back, play, spy, survive, think, train. Mine, a thriller, comes under ‘survive’.
As I looked at the list, I found myself picturing the study in an executive home, as described to me by someone who had once been into one. It contained an empty desk and chair, an exercise bike, and a bookcase with two books in it: a computer manual and something along the lines of Marketing Made Easy. Today it might also have housed The Da Vinci Code.
It’s easy as a lifelong reader to be dismissive of non-readers, when there are plenty of other equally valuable ways of passing your time. But I can’t help thinking that if more people in the business world read good writing, they might become better at it themselves.
Picture Lord Mandelson dreaming up a similar scheme for British business. The list of headings would, in fact, be remarkably similar to the one for teenagers: experiment, explore, fast forward, fear and so on. And the titles themselves? I’d welcome suggestions (leave a comment), but under ‘survive’ I would certainly want to include Hilary Mantel’s magnificent, Booker Prize-winning Wolf Hall. It’s a tough but enthralling read and, as a study of self-preservation, persuasion and the relentless pursuit of power, without equal. I’m sure the Business Secretary would heartily endorse it.
Am just reading (many years too late) John le Carre's "Tinker, tailor, soldier, spy". I'm sure this would appeal to Lord Mandelson too. (Is it just the Lord bit that reminds me of Lord Asriel in "Dark materials"?) As a reader you sit there, as if in cabinet, not knowing what the hell is going on but knowing that there are all sorts of secrets you're not going to understand anyway. But it's still intriguing.
John Christopher's long forgotten novel The Death of Grass has it all – ecological disaster, the failure of the economy, fall of government, power devolved to local people, and how, even at this catastrophic level of the need to survive, power corrupts. I read it in the late 60s (it was written in 1956) so my memory may not serve fully, but in my mind it serves as a perfect parable for 2010. Unlike global warming (bad science, don't get me started) Christopher comes up with a perfectly feasible catalyst for the ecological meltdown.
Names for Business Books – funny how, as soon as you put the word "Business" in there, there seems to be an automatic default to the left brain."How to… " "Three steps to …" "The IdeaVirus" and "Building Stronger Brands."But, if Story Theory (note the capitals – trying to make it sound like an established understanding) is correct – more emotional titles would be more likely to be read.And the content more likely to have a more lasting effect.Yes?OK – making titles up off the top of my head.What about "Brand Murder"?Or "Winter Blood"? (A tale of one man's obsession with increasing store traffic between Autumn and Spring.)Or "Blue Dawn" (The Second Rise of IBM.)Or "FrankenBrand." ("Kill the Monster," screamed the villagers.)And for ones I'd recommend – real titles.Three business specific ones – from the recently read pile.Outliers. Malcolm Gladwell's latest – but the title talks to "things beyond our understanding."Herd. Mark Earls doing what he does best. But the title gets me in – sounds like an adventure right off the bat."Negotiating With The Dead" by Margaret Atwood is also a good read for aspiring writers – a collection of 6 lectures plus comments from the author.And some great books business people should read – because anyone who needs to connect with customers should read books that help them understand why people do supposedly irrational things. (A personal belief.)The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon – on the importance of stories.The Old Man and the Sea – Hemmingway. Tight. Well constructed. Purposeful.One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez – a must read, I think, for all brand managers. The dangers of too much introspection.There are others – so many others.The common thread – in the last six mentioned – is they all use the language to make the points required. They don't have the same "stick to the left brain" structure so many business books do.There's almost a story on every page – stories within stories within stories. Yes. Sometimes layered and confusing. But that's humans for you.