2018 Book Reviews From The Agency Review
Every year Martin Bihl, a creative director who pens The Agency Review as one of his side projects, asks a few folks from the marketing and media world three simple questions: What was the best book they read last year? What is the book they are most looking forward to reading? And what’s the book they wish someone would write? He was kind enough to include my thoughts — see below — in his 2018 round up, but I highly recommend checking out the article itself, which includes some great suggestions from Leigh Baker, Paul Caiozzo, Keith A. Grossman, Kathy Kiely, Fanny Krivoy, Catherine Shiffman, Resh Sidhu and Jordie Wildin.
What was the book you loved this year?
Like the TV show Black Mirror, the short stories in Friday Black conjure worlds so dystopian they should be unimaginable, yet often eerily similar to the one we are living in. Protagonists include a young black man trying to make sense of a society in which white guys kill black kids without legal consequence; a recently-deceased high school shooter confronted by the ghost of the girl he just murdered; and a store associate who excels at selling PoleFace jackets to rabid shoppers who murder each other to get to the merch.
The writing is inventive and urgent, sometimes funny, sometimes tender and sometimes punches you in the stomach, and in itself is reason enough to read this book. But what I really loved was the way the author creates empathy for even the most flawed characters by showing how they are the product of the shitty systems in which they’re stuck. It’s the kind of perspective we could use a lot more of today.
What is the book you’re looking forward to reading next year?
It’s fascinating to me how much more other animals think and feel than most of us understand. (One of my favorite reads last year was Jim and Jamie Dutcher’s wonderful The Wisdom of Wolves.) We already know that octopuses make plans, use tools, store memories and have unique personalities. I’m excited to learn more about the evolution of their brains. They’re like the weird, genius aliens we’ve imagined in so much science fiction, but they’re here on earth and being served up with ancho chile sauce.
Awkward segue, but I’ve also started re-reading Kitchen Confidential, which I appreciate not only for Anthony Bourdain’s joie de vivre and attitude, but also for what it says about creating great experiences. We get obsessed with the potential for technology to enhance guest or customer experiences, but more often what really makes or breaks stores, restaurants, hotels, airlines and so on is the people who work there, the camaraderie that keeps them there and happy, and their ability and willingness to work together towards a common goal.
What is the book you wish someone would write because you would read it in a heartbeat?
I would like to see a compelling masterplan for taking on and beating Amazon, because I don’t believe that piling it high and selling it cheap, which generally means forcing merchants and manufacturers to constantly cut costs (AKA people’s salaries), is a sustainable way to grow the economy or preserve the planet. A government that’s beholden to business isn’t going to come to our aid, but maybe some of the emergent ‘do one thing well’ internet brands — Brooklinen, Rhone, Outdoor Voices, Bombas, and so on — are starting to provide a roadmap for a different kind of future.
Also, maybe a guide to global economics that even our President can understand? Or is that asking the impossible?