Four favourite books: Ben Kay

From music to memoirs to sci-fi

Regular contributor to MediaCat Magazine, Ben, gives us four of his picks for this series.

How Music Works, by David Byrne

This explains the logic behind the magic that we all feel when we listen to certain pieces of music. But it also explains the whole business of music, how the money is made and how many people you should have on your tour if you want to make a profit. 

Oh, and it’s written by David Byrne of Talking Heads, so he really knows his stuff.

The Rachel Papers, by Martin Amis

I read this several times when I was a teenager, but I occasionally pop back for another look. It’s probably Amis’s most accessible book, and full of the brio of a young person living in the late ’60s.

Beware: in the late ’80s it was made into a really bad film starring Dexter Fletcher. Stick to the book.

The Ordinary Life of an Extraordinary Man, by Paul Newman

This is a recent memoir that takes an unusual format: Mr Newman recorded his life’s stories in a series of conversations with a friend. This book reproduces those reminiscences but also peppers in the corroborating (or conflicting) memories of others.

It’s refreshingly honest, especially about his alcoholism, and what it was really like being the biggest star on the planet but feeling like a bit of a fraud.

Solaris, by Stanislaw Lem

This is what I’m reading at the moment. Both films of Solaris are transcendently brilliant, and the book is just as good. It uses a space exploration story to probe some very deep questions about the nature of existence, and does all that with an enjoyably sardonic sense of humour.

It’s also fascinating that it was written in 1961 — long before man made it to the moon — but feels like it could have been written today.

Featured image: Maksim Istomin / Unsplash

Ben Kay, Writer

Ah! The good old ‘about’ section. Time to decide whether to talk about myself in the first person or the third…OK, here goes: I’ve been a CD, GCD, ECD, Creative Partner and an agency founder (twice). I’ve worked on nascent start-ups and the biggest company in the world, and I’ve won dozens of awards and pitches. It’s been fun; it still is. It’s also been a fascinating series of challenges, from building creative departments to working with The Cookie Monster (surprisingly urbane).The older I get the more interested I am in the effect advertising has on the wider world. In 2017 I started an ethical agency and gave myself a very unofficial MBA in the moral questions advertising should consider within the conversations surrounding diversity, the use of global resources and of course the Climate Crisis. We still need to convey information on behalf of corporations and organizations, but we also need to be responsible for any secondary effects and unintended externalities that our work might create.Fortunately it seems that the acknowledgement of those responsibilities is becoming more obvious and more prevalent. If I can do my part in infusing that perspective into places where it can have a greater effect, so much the better. We all need to do our bit, and improved communication is usually the first step in making that happen.I look forward to getting more opportunities to make the kind of difference I think we’re going to need in the near future. And if, along the way, I get to work with Gonzo, Kermit or The Swedish Chef, that would be a welcome bonus.

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MediaCat is an online publication exploring marketing and media change. We focus on brands, the environments where they operate, and the industries that serve them, reporting on ideas, trends, and perspectives. Delving into modern brand experiences, evolving media landscapes, emerging forms of insight, the dynamic world of commerce, forces of transformation in organisations and markets, and the drivers of social impact, we aim to guide professionals navigating a brave new world.

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