Bogdana Butnar: Recommended Books & Reading Habits

All those books and articles about the common habits of successful people and how they all wake up really, really early in the morning? This was the first thing I noticed about Bogdana Butnar 8 or 9 years ago, when I started following her Twitter account. Back then, I was still involved in the entertainment industry, working late nights. At 5-6 in the morning, when I was about to catch a few hours of sleep, Bogdana was already starting her day. No wonder she accomplished so many things! In Bucharest (my home country`s capital), Bogdana became known for her work in the advertising industry. With a Master of Arts in Advertising from London Metropolitan University, she was chief Strategic Planner at Headvertising and McCann Erickson. Afterwards, as Managing Director of MRM Worldwide, she turned it into one of Romania`s top digital agencies. In 2011, Bogdana became one of Google`s first hires in Romania, where she worked until 2014 as Industry Manager. She currently lives in London, as Head of Strategy at Poke - the leading digital agency part of Nurun group (member company of Publicis UK Group). I wanted to know more about her favorite books and reading habits, as I was confident we could all draw lots of lessons from her. Here`s what I learned:

What’s your favorite book and why? Business and non-business, if possible.

I don`t have favourite books. I equate a favourite something with wanting to do it over and over again and I`ve never wanted to read a book too many times. I have favourite authors and I have books that changed me in significant ways because they moved me or taught me something or changed my view of the world. So, here`s some of those books:


Was there a moment, specifically, when something you read in a book helped you? Can you tell me about it?

I consider myself a rationalist who takes solace in thinking that we have control over our perception of the world by better understanding our brain and body. So I developed an intense interest in reading about neurochemistry and the general functioning of the brain in relation to the body when I read the first book I mentioned above. I think most people will go back to when books helped them find epiphanies but for me it was mostly about trying to wrestle control of myself by paying attention to my habits, training my body and even re-thinking my diet as a means to a more balanced mind and there was no specific book for that. :)



What books had the biggest impact on you? (perhaps changed the way you see things, dramatically changed your career path)

Interestingly, it was not a book per se but it was a piece of writing which redefined my career. I read the Cluetrain manifesto early on and thought "boy, the internet sure sounds like something that`s going to change the world in the best way possible" so that`s what got me interested in digital, tech and virtual spaces and I`ve never wanted to step out of that area since then.

What books would you recommend to youngsters interested in your professional path? Why? (no number limit here)

Well, I am a digital strategist with a focus on comms so a lot of the books that need reading for that will be comms and marketing books. I have an extensive list here.


I’m interested in finding out more about your reading habits. How often do you read? In what format?

I used to read whenever I could (on my morning commute, at lunchtime etc) but I`m finding more and more that the only way I can genuinely engage with the subject matter is by doing very applied, intense reading sessions where I underline and take notes. So I read books mostly at the weekend with a pot of tea and a pencil by my side. I read articles all the time on my phone and my laptop but books require a different type of attention investment. I`ve found that I also struggle with reading on the Kindle although that is probably because I haven`t really tried to cultivate that habit. I love the feel of paper books and I love having them in my house so I buy lots of them and my Kindle gets left in my bag for weeks on end.


How do you make time for reading?

It`s becoming almost impossible because of the amount of articles that I also read. I will go into the weekend with a huge list of bookmarked long reads on my computer so I have to set aside 1-2h every weekend for book reading. I also read a lot when I have time off, on holiday or when I travel long distances.


Do you have a favorite place where you read or are you able to read just anywhere?

I can read anywhere except a plane because planes scare me :) but I have found that being alone in my home or somewhere where I can have a separate corner is better. I am naturally curious so if I`m somewhere where a lot of movement is happening I will keep raising my head to watch people which interferes with my reading focus.


Do you take notes or have any other technique for conquering the torrent of information?

I underline stuff I need to remember and then I go back and reread the underlined bits. I also google info I think relates to what I am reading and make additional bookmarks for reading after I am finished with the main text.


How do you choose what books to read next?

Depends. When it comes to fiction, I have favourite authors and I tend to chase whatever new thing they publish. I also have a couple of book critics I admire and I will read what they recommend but I also do the regular thing which is look up book reviews in The Guardian, the NYT or the New Yorker or see who`s won literary prizes like the Man Booker, Pulitzer etc. When it comes to non-fiction I tend to read what my favourite podcasters or bloggers recommend. I have a list of strategists I follow and see what they read for work and then I "book-hop" - meaning I read something and it will reference something else and then I read that and it will reference a study and I read that and so on.


Do you prioritize those recommended by certain people? Is there anyone that you consider a book-recommendations guru?

I don`t have a book guru, no. I tend to read exhaustively around a specific topic that interests me when it comes to non-fiction, so I research that topic myself. For fiction, well, I just pay attention to some of the sources above with no particular focus.
Last question: what book are you currently reading and what are you expecting to gain from it? Currently reading two things: one is The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead, which is a Man Booker nominee, and to be very honest, I`m just reading this because it`s really good so my expectation is to just get the sheer satisfaction of a good piece of fiction. On a more functional level, I am reading Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can`t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain, mostly because I`m finding that as I get older my inner introvert is becoming more prevalent. I`ve been quite good at faking extroversion but I now need how to best leverage my true nature. :)
Links where you can follow Bogdana Butnar or find out more about her projects:
Books mentioned by Bogdana in this interview: