Summer has officially kicked into high gear, which means the search is on for the perfect beach read. Of course, this always presents a problem—how to relax without looking mindless, and how to keep up with your industry without ruining a restful day at the shore? I have the perfect solution: Six books that are great page-turners, while offering real insights into PR, marketing, and the media—even if sometimes by negative example! Leave the how-to manuals and motivational pamphlets for September; right now, we’re going to breeze through novels and memoirs (and just happen to pick up a few pointers in the process).
Friends in Media Places
The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand (Penguin). I first read this novel when I was a new publicist, and I couldn’t have cared less about Rand’s theory of individualism versus collectivism. To me, this was a giant object lesson in the power of the press—specifically, the press as represented by architecture critic Ellsworth Toohey, and his power to make or break rising architect Howard Roark. After reading this, I never took anything for granted as I picked up the (rotary) telephone receiver and started making my first press calls.
Red Carpet Regret: Confessions of a Cynical Celebrity Journalist, Sara Hammel (self-published by Amazon Digital Services). As a longtime avid reader of People magazine, I couldn’t resist this tell-all (or tell-most) by a former reporter for the magazine. Hammel recently quit her freelance gig with People in what the New York Post called “the most scorched-earth way possible”: making public her resignation email in which she blasted—among other things—the “entitled stars and their bats**t-crazy publicists” she endured during her “wildly dysfunctional” 14 years reporting for People. Yup, I’m reading!
The Devil Wears Prada: A Novel, Lauren Weisberger (Broadway Books). Did someone say “dysfunctional”? If you’ve never read this juicy novel about Meryl Streep—I mean Anna Wintour—I mean fashion-magazine editor-in-chief/diva “Miranda Priestly,” just slather on the sunscreen and prop open the book at page one. Inside is an irresistible tale of an up-and-comer who aspires to work at The New Yorker, but instead finds herself in the viciously competitive world of high fashion and glossy magazines. You thought your boss was bad?
This Crazy, Mixed-Up PR World
Thank You for Smoking, Christopher Buckley (Random House). Even 22 years after the book’s original publication, there’s something that feels truly bold about Buckley’s choice to create a “hero,” Nick Naylor, who’s a flack for the tobacco lobby, promoting the benefits of cigarettes. It also feels truly hilarious, in this biting satire of the things we do for the clients we sometimes love to hate. Most instructive: the lunchtime conversations among the members of the M.O.D. Squad—or the “Merchants of Death,” otherwise known as Naylor and his two pals, the flacks for the alcohol and firearms industries.
Primary Colors, Anonymous, a.k.a. journalist Joe Klein (Random House). This 1996 novel, a thinly disguised portrait of Bill Clinton’s run for the presidency in 1992, may not at first appear to be about PR—but then, what is a political campaign if not a giant PR machine? Seen through the eyes of a young aide who starts out starry-eyed and idealistic and who ends … less so, Primary Colors paints a compelling picture of the artifice, strategy, and Machiavellian shenanigans required to promote a “sincere” candidate. The book may be 20 years old, but the object lessons, for good and bad, are as relevant as ever.
Trust Me I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator, Ryan Holiday (Portfolio). Yes, I know I’ve two books on this list entitled “Confessions of a… .” And I know that using “Confessions of a…” is a cheesy way to telegraph that your books is going to be gossipy and provocative. But “media manipulation” is the heart, or let’s say the guts, of Holiday’s sometimes offensive book about his years as a strategist for such charmers as the reviled Dov Charney of American Apparel and womanizer-author-public speaker Tucker Max. But you can’t deny that Holiday knows how to work the press (in which he wisely includes bloggers and social media mavens) to his clients’ advantage.
Of course, after reading some of these books, as after a day at the beach, you may want to go home and take a shower.