THE A LIST: Adland's favourite Book

Sebastian Faulks' Birdsong tops the list and flies a solitary flag for British literature in the upper reaches of the favoured top ten.

It's hell out there. The A List's favourite book is about a young English businessman struggling to find hope in this Vale of Tears, despite spending years in the verminous trenches of the First World War and witnessing the carnage of the Battle of the Somme.

Whereas number two on the list is about the impossibility of finding any meaning in a world in which war (World War II this time) looks very like entrepreneurial business conducted by other means. What are our respondents trying to tell us?

And then there's A Prayer for Owen Meany, an uncanny book about a dwarfish boy with a squawkily macabre voice who believes he is an instrument of God. Owen doesn't work in the advertising industry, you will be relieved to hear. On the other hand, the ad business does boast an inordinate number of people who believe they're instruments of God. The rest of them think that they are God. Not all of them speak in squawky voices.

It's a surprisingly literary list, especially in its lower reaches, where you've even got a couple of Russian classics. Anna Karenina is a bit of a door stop too - as is its high-toned (but admittedly far less racy) English equivalent, Middlemarch.

The members of Campaign's A List have clearly been to school. Where, as it happens, most of them probably first came across To Kill a Mockingbird, a set text whose portrayal of prejudice and injustice in the American Deep South can leave a lasting impression.

But perhaps there's a simpler explanation behind the choice of some of the books we have here. Has our "A-team" read them at all, or do they just like the sound of the titles? In fact, it's tempting to see the choices of Great Expectations, Pride and Prejudice and The Unbearable Lightness of Being as being in some way confessional or autobiographical. And as for Alain de Pouzilhac choosing The Little Prince, well ...

For those who might want to make an intricately argued point about the strength or otherwise of our indigenous British culture (and the advertising industry's ability to reflect it), it's surely interesting to note that, although Birdsong tops the chart, the next six books on the list are US productions. Sebastian Faulks' book (published in 1993) is also the only contemporary British work to get a mention. The media and advertising industries are clearly not immersed in Booker Prize culture. And the most contemporary book, the painfully moving The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (1997), is actually French.

To Kill a Mockingbird aside, it's a remarkably unsentimental collection of books. When surveys like this are conducted among the public at large you tend to get at least an element of the quirky and whimsical, reflected especially in the large numbers of children's books (and they're not just chosen by children either) that appear in the charts, from Pooh to Potter.

But the upper reaches of the ad industry is either full of people who take themselves very seriously or they're acutely self-conscious. Or both. The innocent pleasures of childhood reading have clearly been left behind long ago by advertising's high achievers.

Full marks, though, to Paul Arden for choosing his own book, It's Not How Good You Are, It's How Good You Want To Be. Modesty forbids most of adland's other scribes from selecting their own tomes, but then even the most racy marketing textbook would find it hard to compete with literature's best.

But the real shocker uncovered by the book category is that the acutely perceptive and gifted Trevor Beattie felt able, without any apparent shame, to boast that he doesn't read books at all.


1 Birdsong Sebastian Faulks 12

2 Catch 22 Joseph Heller 9

3 To Kill a Mockingbird Harper Lee 7

4 The Catcher in the Rye JD Salinger 6

5= A Prayer for Owen Meany John Irving 5

5= The Fountainhead Ayn Rand 5

5= The Great Gatsby F Scott Fitzgerald 5

8= Middlemarch George Eliot 4

8= Great Expectations Charles Dickens 4

8= The Diving Bell and the

Butterfly Jean-Dominique Bauby 4

8= Pride and Prejudice Jane Austin 4

Also-rans: The Master and Margarita (3), The Unbearable Lightness of

Being (3),Atlas Shrugged (3), Anna Karenina (3), Wuthering Heights (3).


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