I hesitate to hold up anything from the days before the Y2K bust. Everyone is so obsessed with new stuff; God forbid I look like one of those old doo wop fans you see on PBS, twisting in the aisle with their hip replacements to “Rock Around the Clock.” So, I took down from my shelf an old book, okay? I swear I wasn’t being nostalgic, not entirely, anyway.
Mayor of Casterbridge is on my short list of books that I can’t live without, along with Bleak House, Elizabeth Bishop’s The Complete Poems, Leaves of Grass, Muriel Spark's The Driver's Seat, something by William Trevor and Wodehouse. Oh yeah, and Walden and Mansfield Park. And Brothers Karamazov. Maybe one or two more. There are other books, some good ones, too, that I suppose I could manage without, but that short list I will take to my grave. Anyway, I had to have a dose of Thomas Hardy’s words, his descriptions, the way he paints the Wessex landscape.
The story I could get from Cliffs Notes; but not the words. The story may be able to transport me; but the words make the journey worth taking. It dawned on me that I could open that book to absolutely any page and be totally absorbed. So that’s what I did:
The sun had recently set, and the west heaven was hung with rosy cloud, which seemed permanent, yet slowly changed. To watch it was like looking at some grand feat of stagery from a darkened auditorium. In presence of this scene after the other there was a natural instinct to abjure man as the blot on an otherwise kindly universe; till it was remembered that all terrestrial conditions were intermittent, and that mankind might some night be innocently sleeping when these quiet objects were raging loud.
Speechless, I got to thinking: Ad agencies are always yammering about storytelling, “To connect to your audience, tell them a story.” And it’s not just general agencies; digital shops are in on it, too. Well, they're right – they are storytellers, but most of them lack the words to tell them. Look at Cannes – there isn’t a ton of inspiring work. It’s overrun by generic, stunty (is that a word?) and shallow ads. And, that’s been my opinion for a few years now. So, maybe we ought to emphasize the words a little more, at least as much as the ones and zeros. Did you ever read the famous “Do This or Die” ad written by Bob Levenson or the Apple ads by Penny Kapasouz; how about the BMW ads by Joe O’Neil or….Dammit, I so don’t want to end up like one of those guys always waxing on about the old days when writers could write.