I was at a dinner about 5 years ago with some very clever people. Try as I might I could not contribute to the conversation and got to a point where I figured it would be better to keep my mouth shut. I think by this stage in the evening they had more or less forgotten I was there at all as they flexed their grey matter, while I sat and watched, listened, chewed my food and wondered when they were actually going to get their cerebums out and flop them on the table for a ‘who’s got the biggest brain’ contest.
However before they all got waaay too clever for me we had been talking about books. I love books. I’m not well-read, but I love books. I love them on shelves, by my bed, I love the way they line walls, the sense of comfort they bring to a room, I love the smell of old books, I love picture books, novels, recipe books… I have hundreds of books – many have been read, an equal number have been started and not finished, many still lie waiting to be opened. My love of books isn’t limited to reading them… I just love them, it’s a reflex, something that feels primal to me – there isn’t logic involved when I’m in the company of books, I simply like having them around me.
Anyway, at this dinner, talking about books, I mentioned that I loved The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho and one of the other guests commented dismissively that he hated self-help type stuff. I don’t remember what my response was, but I do remember the thought that kept going through my mind that night, and which still goes through my mind;
…what is wrong with helping yourself??
Everyone has their own way. Some of us talk, some play golf, some go to the pub, others say nothing to anyone and bury things deep – but some of us look for wisdom in books. There’s something humble about acknowledging that perhaps someone else has studied a different way of looking at life, and that it might make your own life that bit richer. Sometimes they add nothing, but all you have to do is close the book, put it on your shelf and let it contribute to making your room look homely – unless you’re a minimalist, in which case I guess you just turn off your Kindle or Kobo…
I admire anyone who starts writing a book and I particularly admire anyone who manages to finish writing a book – so no matter what someone’s motive is for writing in a particular genre, I still think they deserve credit for managing to research (in most cases), write, finish, publish and stand by their creation. At that point we are in control of whether we pick up, purchase, open, start reading, finish reading, apply to our lives, or place in the bin any book which crosses our paths.
So, if self help books are not for you that’s just dandy. And if you’re cynical about the market itself, well that’s just dandy too, because you don’t have to invest in it.
But for those of us who are fans, I hope we can start to read our books on the tube/bus/subway/train/wherever without feeling that we should be wrapping the covers in brown paper so no one can see what we’re reading and making any assumptions that we must be sad, or mad, or happy, or deluded, or gullible. Personally speaking, I’m curious – we are fascinating creatures with all our good and bad traits, our brains are incredible. And there are so many smart people who are curious enough about us that they study us and write about us – I want to know what those people have to say about how we function and why we function the way we do, and I want to know whether there are new ways of approaching life.
So all these thoughts have gently developed from a seed planted on a night when I felt like the most dim-witted person in the room. I thank my chip for its defensive reaction to a dismissive comment, and I hope to grow a business which helps to change the way we view this stuff. Hey, more often than not a glass of wine and a good yarn help, but sometimes books help too…