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Ex Libris...

Ex libris

 ...is the name of a regular feature in the International Journal Of Advertising

[SIDENOTE: Do you read it? Did you know about it? I'm increasingly keen to try and bridge the gap between the very interesting acadedmic research around advertising and the industry of advertising.

Seems like we could learn a lot from each other.]

They very lovely Professor Stephanie O'Donohoe from The University of Edinburgh reached out and asked me to do one for them and believing as I do that reading is for awesome people, how could I refuse?

The pieces is below in its entirety for convenience - if you grab the pdf you will get a bonus book review by Gareth Kay on Gary V's Thank You Economy. 

Download IJA Book_Reviews September 2011 FY


Polonius: What do you read my lord?

Hamlet: Words, words, words.


I’ve always wanted a library.

[I’m aware that Ex Libris technically means from the book of, but it can also mean from the library of.]


A library with musty leather bound books and one of those ladders on wheels.

Not Borges’ Babel, just a place to house the bodies of the books I have known and loved.

That’s one of the things I love about books in their original conception – they create their own souvenirs, a discarded carapace of content consumed, bones to be picked over and shared, or given away

[because whenever you lend someone a book, no matter how largely you write your name on the frontispiece, you know, deep down, that you have just given that book away].


To bastardize Philip Larkin, books are where we live, where we come from. As a teenager, your record collection was perhaps a more telling indication of who you are, but as an adult, your books define you, or who you want to be.

This is the gist of this column, I imagine: ask about the books to get directional hints at the mind or the man.  Or the practitioner, perhaps more saliently.


What books then would you choose to define you? For the English among you, it’s very like Desert Island Discs; a challenge to represent the inestimable depth and complexity that is you and your subjective aesthetic, in all its glory, in a very small number of cultural referents.

To whit, we should begin, so let’s start with something pretentious.

First up I summon forth what is commonly accepted to be one of most complex of the great works of poetry – The Waste Land by T.S Eliot .

Recently re-released in an excellent iPad edition, Eliot’s post-modern challenge to the reader revels in its obscurity; every line opens up more possibilities and associations, which I have always been smitten by. The idea that a text should create more meanings, not define any absolutely, and allude meta-textually to the culture it grows from, has always been part of how I think about the dense, generative expressions of advertising.

From self-aggrandizing high culture, to high culture wrapped in low: comic books.


So much of my understanding of myth and how myth operates in culture is a function of reading about superheroes.That said, from my bookshelf with delusions of grandeur I offer up the entirety of The Sandman by Neil Gaimen

Widely accepted to be one of the greatest comic book series of all time, and one of the lynchpin works that established literary credibility for the genre, its recombinant intermingling of disparate myth and popular culture, and ability to weave multi-stranded narratives that are both personal and alien, remain unparalleled.

[BONUS: Also read Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art by Scott Mcloud , a wonderful exploration of the literary theory of ‘sequential art’ and one of the possible reasons that Scott ended up writing a comic book about the launch of the Google Chrome Browser, which I may have worked on.]

As a literary type person, I also harbored a desire to be great novelist.

Perhaps I still do, but I don’t think I have the right mode for long form fiction, as much as I regard it.

I stand by my favorite novel of all time: Stone Junction by Jim Dodge [Kindle Edition]  ‘alchemical potboiler’, a postmodern psychedelic journey of discovery around the fringes of society, something that inspires the soul to ask questions and peer behind curtains.

[BONUS: Stone Junction also reminds of my favorite novel as a teenager, Lux the Poet by Martin Millar, [Kindle Edition] which I had completely forgotten about until last week, because it is set against a backdrop of the Brixton riots in 1985.]


As I get older I find myself growing into all the clichés and reading more non-fiction, especially popular science. The book that began it all was, I think, Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters by Matt Ridley. [Kindle Edition]

It was this book that reminded me that, at one point, I also wanted to be a geneticist and the legacy of this leaves me very interested in recombinant processes.

Since I have been espousing a combinatorial conception of creativity for some time, I feel I should mention Ideas Are New Combinations by James Webb Young, [Kindle Edition] and then probably Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson [Kindle Edition] for good measure.


My brain has always shunned useful information for trivia, and Bill Bryson’s A Short History of  Nearly Everything [Kindle Edition] is incredibly long AND has so many beautiful bits of trivia crammed into every page it deserves endless re-reading.


A book that had such a great impact on how I think about the brave new digital world and the people in it that I ended up teaching on the author’s postgraduate course and writing the preface to the Brazilian edition mustn’t be ignored: Convergence Culture by Henry Jenkins. [Kindle Edition]

Henry is one of the pre-eminent media theorists of our time, both as fan and academic, and his understanding of participatory culture is required reading for anyone hoping to understand behavior and motivation in communities online.

[Bonus: So are Here Comes Everybody [Kindle Edition] and Cognitive Surplus [Kindle Edition] by Clay Shirky. I didn’t write the preface to those though.]


Speaking of behavior, in a business built entirely around the hopeful modification of such, nothing delights me more than our recent adoption of behavioral economics as a cause célèbre. My favorite text is Stumbling on Happiness [Kindle Edition] by Dan Gilbert, which charmingly reminds us how bad we are at predicting anything, especially what will make us happy.

[Bonus: Also do read Predictably Irrational [Kindle Edition] by Dan Ariely, and How We Decide [Kindle Edition] by Jonah Lehrer and my most recent favorite in this general area, Everything is Obvious [Once you Know the Answer] [Kindle Edition] by Duncan Watts]


Whilst we should look outside ourselves for inspiration, we should also be aware of the tradition we operate within.

To that end, the key texts for advertising are numerous but you should be fine with Truth Lies and Advertising by Jon Steel [Kindle Edition], the only planning memoir, and Ubiquitous Persuaders, by George Parker, [Kindle Edition] a proper history of modern advertising which sparkles with love and hatred in equal measure, and the planning blog that started a lot of other planning blogs, Russell Davies’ excellent We Are As Disappointed as You.

[Bonus: Consumer.ology by Philip Graves [Kindle Edition] will help those of you that suspect all market research is wrong with evidence to support your supposition.]


Finally, the book that has touched me most in recent times, the one that I hear in my head most often when dealing with reality, the one I am most often inclined to send to friends, is called This Is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life by David Foster Wallace, [Kindle Edition] which I genuinely believe everyone would benefit from reading, and the world would benefit if everyone did.

[Bonus: Also attempt the mountain that is his magnum opus Infinite Jest, [Kindle Edition] if only for the gag about sponsoring the years, which leads to dates like The Year of the Whopper and The Tucks Medicated Pad.]



Ariely, D. (2008)  Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces that Shape Our Decisions, New York: Harper Collins

Bryson, B. (2003) A Short History of Nearly Everything. New York: Broadway Books.

Dodge, J. (1997) Stone Junction, Edinburgh: Rebel Inc.

Eliot, T.S. (1922/2002)  The Waste Land and Other Poems, London: Faber & Faber;   iPad edition available via http://touchpress.com/titles/thewasteland

Gilbert, D. (2007) Stumbling on Happiness, New York: Vintage

Graves, P. (2010) Consumer.ology: The Market Research Myth, the Truth about Consumer Behaviour and the Psychology of Shopping, London: Nicholas Brealey Publishing

Jenkins, H. (2006) Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide,  New York: New York University Press

Johnson, S. (2010) Where Good Ideas Come from: The Natural History of Innovation. New York: Riverhead Books, 2010.

Lehrer, J. (2009) How We Decide, New York: Houghton-Mifflin.

McCloud, S. (1994) Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art. New York:  HarperPerennial

Millar, M. (1993) Lux the Poet, London: Fourth Estate 

Parker, G. (2009) The Ubiquitous Persuaders, Booksurge Publishing

Ridley, M. (2000). Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters. New York: HarperCollins.

Shirky, C. (2008)  Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing

Without Organizations, New York: Penguin Press, February 2008.

Shirky, C. (2010) Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age. New York: Penguin Press

 Steel, J. (1998) Truth Lies and Advertising: The Art of Account Planning, New York: Wiley 

Wallace, D.F.(2009)  This Is Water: Some Thoughts Delivered on a Significant Occasion, About Living a Compassionate Life, New York: Little, Brown and Company

Wallace, D.F. (1996 ) Infinite Jest, Boston: Little Brown

Watts, D. (2011) Everything is Obvious *Once you Know the Answer, New York: Crown Business 

Young, J.W. (1965/2003) A Technique for Producing Ideas, New York: McGrawHill