There are two types of people in the world. There are those who buy endless self-help books about how to be better people, stay in a relationship, be better organised, succeed in the office. They like inspirational quotes and breathing – breathing is a big thing – and they sign their emails “Kind regards”. Who gets the “Unkind regards”, I always wonder?
Then there is the other type: folk like me, who don’t want to read about women who love too much, or who love idiotic bastards, or books that say they are not diet books but actually are. I do not want a picture of a sunset alongside a stupid exhortation to be happy. Anyway, there are emojis for this sort of thing now, surely – another joyride into the infantilised smiley world.
Of course, having fed every kind of female insecurity, such books are now aimed at men. It’s a new market. Kiera O’Brien of the Bookseller magazine said: “It’s almost like male readers are looking for guidance or reassurance on how to be a man in a post #MeToo world.” It’s a constant surprise that I haven’t been commissioned to write such a tome, although stretching “Don’t be a dick” into thousands of words would be quite the ask.
My objection to all of this stuff is the atomisation of social problems into this competitive self-improvement. Of course people need to talk about anxiety and depression, but the act of reading a self-help book is not itself self-help because they rarely challenge you, spinning as they do around positive thinking, affirmation, self-actualising and “winning”.
It has to be said, though, I have an immense soft spot for a certain kind of inspirational poster: ones of beautiful landscapes with Werner Herzog quotes over the top. My favourite shows some cows in an abundant green field and reads: “I believe the common denominator of the universe is not harmony but chaos, hostility and murder.”