December 26, 2013The books I’ve read this year

Earlier this year the excellent Glenn Fisher wrote a guest post on my blog in which he talked about how important it is to not become engulfed by your work — to seek your inspiration not in Ogilvy and Bernbach (well, not all the time) but in writers such as Ernest Hemingway, in the comedy of Bill Hicks, or the drama of TV series The Wire.

As the year draws to a close, I thought I’d take a look at my  bookshelf and, for the first time ever, analyse what I’ve been reading and why.

Here are all the books I’ve read this year. I’ve tried to keep them broadly in the order in which they were read and separated out fiction and non-fiction. If you don’t want to be subjected to self-indulgent literary porn, look away now…


Franz Kafka – The Castle
Don DeLillo – Cosmopolis
James Herbert – Domain*
John Green – Looking for Alaska
Charles Bukowski – Women
Charles Bukowski – Post Office
Ned Beauman – The Teleportation Accident
Vladimir Nabokov – Laughter in the Dark
Charles Bukowski – Pulp
Alexander Trocchi – Cain’s book
Alasdair Gray – Lanark
Charles Bukowski – Ham on Rye
Charles Bukowski – Factotum
M. Ageyev – Novel with Cocaine*
JD Salinger – The Catcher in the Rye*
Colin Macinnes – Absolute Beginners
Derek Raymond – The Crust on its Uppers
Derek Raymond – I was Dora Suarez
Edward St Aubyn – Never Mind*
Evelyn Waugh – Scoop
Martin Amis – London Fields*
Jesse May – Shut up and Deal*
John McCulloch – The Frost Fairs
John Niven – Straight White Male
Chad Kultgen – The Average American Marriage
Charles Jackson – The Lost Weekend*
Leopold von Sacher Masoch – Venus in Furs
Anonymous – Diary of an Oxygen Thief
Angela Carter – The Passion of New Eve
Patrick DeWitt – Ablutions

*denotes a book I’ve also read in a previous year


Friedrich Nietzche – Beyond good and evil
Dave Trott – Predatory Thinking
The Ad Contrarian – 101 Contrarian Ideas About Advertising
Glenn Fisher – Buy this now: A Beginner’s Guide to Direct Response Copywriting
Harold Behr & Liesel Hurst – A Meeting of Minds
Dan Goldgeier – View from the cheap seats
Murray Chandler – How to beat your dad at chess
Charles Saatchi – Be the worst that you can be
George Lois – Damn good advice for creative people
Gilles Deleuze – On Masochism
Blake Snyder – Save the Cat

That’s a total of 41 books. So while it seems like a lot, it’s fewer than one a week. Not an insurmountable task for anyone. I’ve read about twice as much fiction as I’ve read non-fiction. Glenn will be pleased to note I read his book, too. One thing I notice is that if I like an author, I’ll quickly tear through his other books – This year it was Charles Bukowski and Derek Raymond (In previous years, it was writers like Martin Amis, David Mitchell, or Edward St Aubyn). I also note that I re-read several books that I’ve gained pleasure or insight from. But perhaps distressingly, I noticed that my reading list was overwhelmingly male. Would this have a detrimental effect on my copywriting? I’ve resolved to read more female authors next year.

I’ve read books ranging from comedy to crime to melodrama, pulp horror to high literature, includingthe notoriously difficult and political Lanark (which, incidentally, was my favourite book of the year). And reading The Catcher In The Rye for the first time since I was sixteen was a real eye-opener. Suffice to say my perspective on the book has substantially changed.

In the world of non-fiction, I’ve read my share of books on advertising and on copywriting, but also books on chess and psychology and screenwriting, as well as some classic philosophy.

Some writers teach you how to write with precision, some with emotion, others with emphasis. Some just leave you in their wake.

In short, apart from the gender imbalance, it’s been a pretty well rounded year that has contributed a great deal to my own knowledge and skills. It’s also made me realise how far away I am from being able to write as well or think as clearly as some of the authors on that list.

But one thing’s for certain: I love writing. I love reading. And I’m very fortunate to have added these excellent books to my list.

What do you think I should read next year? Suggestions welcome.

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This entry was posted on Thursday, December 26th, 2013 at 12:36 am and is filed under Blog, Me and my business. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

One comment

  1. jOsh lugEmbe says:

    Alastaire, this is a very long list for any full-time copywriter.

    But it shows a great deal of dedication and love for reading.

    I don’t read much of fiction these days, but from what I’ve learned from a few copywriters, fiction books have to have their place, too.

    In your list, I have only read one book – Damn Good Advice (for people with talent) by George Lois. This book made me like George, and learn a little more about him.

    I have researched Dave Trott’s ‘Predatory Thinking’ & Charles Saatchi’s ‘Be the worst that you can be’ and realised that they’ve to have a place in my book shelf. Predatory Thinking because he thinks the way I like to think I must think, and Saatchi’s because it’s true… Life’s too short to please others.

    So, what to read for this year – 2014?

    Well, how about Life’s A Pitch: What the World’s Best Sales People Can Teach Us All by Philip Delves Broughton?

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