By Elisa Zallio, Account Executive, Hoffman Europe
There’s no such thing as “too many books.”
If there’s one bad habit I don’t mind my parents passing to me, it is book hoarding. As I write this blog, I have some 200 in my childhood home in Italy. Will I regret my collection when I have to move them to a new house or another apartment? Oh yes, 100%. Has this stopped me from ordering new books on Amazon to brace the quarantine? No.
A major reason why I can write pretty much fluently in English as well as my native Italian is the mountain of pages I’ve devoured in the past 20 years. Books taught me the technical aspects from grammar to syntax, but most of all they taught me how to make something come alive – essentially, what makes storytelling great. Some demonstrated this through good and bad examples, while other were actual manuals that discussed narrative elements and how they work together.
Chatting about this with colleagues in the London office, we thought it would be cool to group together our favorite books that bring storytelling to life. Like a reading list for anyone who looking for inspiration.
The Storytelling Animal by Jonathan Gottschall
“Really loved this one,” Mark said. “It’s basically about the human need to storify everything to make sense of the world. It’s ace, and really helps you tune into what makes a story interesting.”
I read this book myself, having borrowed it from Mark, and can’t recommend it more. Reading it, you realize that storytelling is everywhere, in how we think of ourselves and the world around us. It helps us make sense of the past and plan the future. If you need scientific proof of how powerful stories are, it’s written in this book.
One + One = Three by Dave Trott
According to Chris, this is a book *everyone* needs. It’s a series of fantastic examples of specific traits, behaviors, and psychology models that the author has used (or has taken inspiration from), for advertising and branding work.
“It’s a gorgeous example of how to tell an anecdote. Every example is a pithy, engaging, and entertaining read, and they’re all about three pages long,” Chris says.
The author has a very idiosyncratic style, and is easily recognized, but the way he explains something so succinctly and uses an example in a smart, and easily understood way to demonstrate a complex behavioral trait, is superb.
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
“Gillian Flynn’s portrayal of a marriage gone wrong in ‘Gone Girl’ serves as an excellent example of how narrative can be used to manipulate the reader’s perspective,” Andree explains.
“The first part of the novel casts ‘Amy’ as the victim of a vicious attack from her husband ‘Nick,’ but then her true nature and motivations are revealed in the second act. From a PR perspective, it is important to be aware of how the reader’s journey can be shaped and molded by the author’s biases – sometimes unknowingly. This can also be used as a powerful tool to affect perceptions and opinions.”
Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari
“This one is good for learning storytelling because it’s basically a whole book that talks about data, and the author uses it to explain the past and/or predict the future of humans,” Patrizia tells me. “And while this could be written like any report/school book, etc. (dry and hard to read), Harari manages to make it an entertaining, flowing story by adding images, graphics and – most importantly – anecdotes. Especially the short stories he implements make the content quite relatable, and that’s something that connects people to a story (self-centered as we are).”
Empire of the Ants by Bernard Werber
Eric Van Damme
Eric shrugs: “I didn’t think it was possible to write an interesting story about ants – much less a book trilogy!” And yet, here we are.
Ever since Eric told me about it, I’ve been very curious to read this book. In tech PR, we often find ourselves having to talk about very complex, sometimes dry concepts, yet Werber’s trilogy shows that great storytelling can make any subject engaging. Even the scientifically accurate day of a colony of ants.
A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin
A great world-building example! Martin tells a fantasy story in a way that makes it more grounded, tangible and, ultimately, believable. The world of the Nine Kingdoms in never explained, it’s shown little by little through what the characters consider obvious – like having a kilometric ice wall, why would anyone question that?
It’s like writer and reader are collaborating to build the story. One provides the pieces, the other puts them together into the final puzzle. I find this more enjoyable and active, compared to long explanation on how this world is different from the “real world.”
And now it’s up to you. What books do you have to suggest? Let me know, and let’s build a Hoffman library of essential books for storytelling!
Note: Lou Hoffman shared his review of one of his favorites, “Tell to Win” by Peter Guber, several years ago in this space.