Saturday, May 25, 2013

mad men reading list

It's a soggy Saturday where I am (Northwest CT) making it an excellent day to do what you never have time for anymore: reading longform. For Mad Men fans, I've compiled a list of books that memorialize those who fought in the Advertising Wars:

Jerry Della Femina's seminal ad memoir "From Those Wonderful Folks Who Gave You Pearl Harbor" was first published in 1970 and made the ad business sound so enticing it inspired me (and many others) to go into it.

Yes, The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit is a film but the novel is better imho, even without Gregory Peck's moving performance. Great writing, complex portrait of Mad Men-era office life and satisfying exploration of surprisingly contemporary theme of relative values of family vs. career.

And speaking of novels that are (way) better than films adapted from them, Revolutionary Road tells a dark story in Yates' stellar prose, the tale of a couple who buy into the American Dream of the 1960s and how it all unravels for them. She's a homemaker (of course) and he's got a thankless job in the ad industry (oxymoron?) The book resonates with vivid Mad Men-esque scenes like the one in a hospital waiting room, where everyone is smoking cigarettes.

Joshua Ferris was a copywriter in a cubicle in Chicago which gave him the chops to write a hilarious fictional sendup of the business Then We Came to the End. I defy anyone in advertising to read this without laughing. Out loud. Like I did. On a subway. So loud, the person next to you gives up the seat.

If there is a real-life Peggy Olson, it's Jane Maas who started at Ogilvy in 1964 and rose to be creative director and agency officer. With good-humor, wit and convincing detail, Mad Women tells the story of what it took to break into the mad men's club with award-winning work like the "I Love NY" campaign while raising two daughters you want to grow up to be normal.

I was freelancing at McCann when ECD Nina DiSesa's book came out and corridors were abuzz with alternating takes on the book: "It's brilliant!" "It's slander!" "It's her swan song before getting out of the business!"I immensely enjoyed Seducing the Boys Club which is not only the well-told story of how DiSesa herself ceiling-crashed to the top, it's advice to women in her wake on how to "Lean In" and grab those titles and agency stock-options.

I worked down the hall from John Kenney at Ogilvy and have long admired his writing, not just his elegant copywriter prose, but his humor pieces in the New York Times and the New Yorker which are LOL-funny. So is Truth in Advertising, a new satire on the business, which is alternately sweet and sad and hilariously on target. Gwyneth Paltrow doing a diapers commercial that has to stop filming because the baby cast to be hers turns out to be black? Only a veteran of the business could come up with that.

What are the odds that two ex-copywriters from Ogilvy would come out with a novel set in advertising, at the same time? From the same publisher? Another debut novel from Simon and Schuster this season is my own: Making It: A Novel of Madison Avenue. It's a coming-of-middle age story about a woman and a business (advertising, of course.) It’s sort of like Mad Men thirty years later, from the point of view of an older, wiser, married Peggy Olson. One of the themes explored is technology, and the book offers readers opportunities to further explore characters in a digitally enhanced epilogue. Advertising, meet Transmedia. (Hey, where better to peddle your wares than on your own blog?)

Happy reading!