Archive | May, 2013

The Self-Help Book Industry

15 May

A wise man never knows all. Only fools know everything!
African Proverb


It’s a phenomenon that has exploded all over the bookshelves of Colombo bookshops; Self-Help Books.
They have always been there of course but lately they seem to be EVERWHERE! Not in just select shelves, in out-of-the-way corners as they used to be, say, a decade ago.

If the stacking of the bookshelves are anything to go by, we have a lot of under-confident people in Colombo city, searching for a better way / better meaning in their lives. Nothing wrong with that of course. As a devourer of several self-help books in the past I know where they are coming from.

So here’s a tip from a world-weary self-help book reader;

Don’t waste your money on self-help books. You’ll eventually have to buy a self-help book on how to stop buying self-help books. The only people those books actually help are the pompous authors of that drivel.

They are really smart these authors. They know only one thing clearly. Their target audiences are under-confident people who probably got that way due to not having enough approbation / appreciation / love in their lives (aka eighty percent of the world’s population according to established studies).

Their works therefore spill over with feel-good drivel on love, kindness and compassion and some real gems on how to achieve success since you don’t know it already and have to shell out several hundred rupees to get it:

Work from your heart!

Love from your soul!

Give it all you’ve got!

Live in the present; don’t worry about the past or the future!

Believe in yourself! (Heh! If you did, why would you buy the book?)

Really valuable gems eh? When ‘The monk who sold his Ferrari’ was being touted as the next best thing to peanut butter some years ago, I rushed to buy it along with some other gullible people searching for ‘meaning’ in their lives. The blurb on the back gave a lot of promise too. A monk who had gone all the way into the Himalayas to search for the meaning of life and then been compassionate enough to return to tell us mortals the truth.

Inside, several chapters were devoted to each of the above points. Only hermits in the Himalayas knew them before and now thanks to Robin Sharma, the Paramrahasya (mystical super-secret) of working from your heart and loving from your soul is also known to all others who read the book.


Only even those super-secrets unleashed on the world’s population was not enough. Sharma had to write at least nine more similar books. I noticed on one of my recent forays to the bookstore that his latest offer is: The secret letters of the monk who sold his Ferrari.


Ooh, keep those secrets coming. So long as it’s a secret that no-one ever knew before on how to overcome the travails of life, people will keep buying it. Never mind that the last book you wrote filled with promises of changing our lives did not do the trick. You did manage to sell hope effectively so we’ll buy the next book – hoping THAT has the definitive answer!

Self-help books are a multi-billion dollar industry now. If eighty percent of the world’s population have low self esteem and as such are devourers of self-help books, the other twenty percent seem to be busy churning out more and more books to meet that demand.


In one of my favourite book stores where I hang out frequently, I noticed that the garish covers of the self-help books were taking pride of place everywhere. There were self-help books on life and living, self-help books on death and dying, books for mothers-to-be, books for managers with bad employees, books for employees with bad managers…

Yes, we know. There is no human out there without problems, but seriously? When did we get this hooked as a civilization, on reading stuff that makes little or no sense? It’s almost a phenomenon of the Emperor’s clothes now. People ooh and aah over ‘New Age’ writers, buying their books and gifting it to others as epitomes of critical brilliance – when it’s actually utter drivel. Two of the biggest names behind this phenomenon would be Paulo Coelho and Deepak Chopra.  I read only one book of each (and that was one too many) before wondering why they are such a sensation.

Then they came on twitter where I didn’t have to waste money to follow their gibberish. Here are some of their latest tweets:

Coelho: “When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better too.”

“Love! Your future depends on your capacity to love.”

“If you see somebody who needs help, help him. One day you might need to be helped too. Either way, the choice is yours.”


Chopra: “Love without action is meaningless and action without love is irrelevant.”

“No fundamental physical substance is the basic building block of the universe.The essential stuff of the universe is thinking non-stuff.”

“Nothing outside of consciousness can be known”


Wow! Profound eh? Doesn’t that just make you stop and wipe away a tear? Hold on! I need to go blow my nose over how much of my money and years of my impressionable youth I’ll never get back again. All those books on how to get rich quick and make friends fast and live life better and here I am, an underpaid, over-worked journalist – with all the issues I ever had and some more to boot.

There’s hope though. If you have read a few self-help books, you’ve read then all. They are all a re-hashing of the same gobbledegook in different terms and words. If the current crisis in my life keeps up, I think I will switch from the losing to the winning team in this debacle. The readers are definitely the losers and I have been one for far too long. It’s better to join the writers who earn millions to re-hash hackneyed terms like ‘love’, ‘passion’ and ‘meaningful living’ and extend them like over-extended rubber bands into meaningless chapters. How hard can that be?

Come to think of it! That’s a great idea. I am going to go write a book on “How to stop reading Self-Help books and get on with your lives in eight easy steps.”


And when that takes off and lands me a multi-million dollar contract to write more; I’ll write “The ninth step.”