The Rich Get Richer with Shelf-help

Self-help books for women, with titles like Why hasn’t he proposed, are the most offensive. Do women really think of nothing other than men?

Published: 13th July 2014 06:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 13th July 2014 12:42 AM   |  A+A-

I know now why I’m poor. It’s because I read for pleasure. Rich people read for self-improvement. Tom Corley’s book Rich Habits: The Daily Success Habits of Wealthy Individuals, tells me so. Corley’s research says only 11 per cent of the rich read for entertainment, compared to 79 per cent of the poor. Eighty-five per cent of the rich read at least two education/career/self-improvement books a month, compared to 15 per cent of the poor. “The rich are voracious readers on how to improve themselves. They constantly read self-improvement books and books about successful people,” says the writer. 

And to think I’ve been scoffing at the self-help genre. Like the personality quizzes carried by B-grade magazines, the genre’s one-size-fits-all approach has always struck me as too pat. Don’t have inner peace? Go stare at a wall and will it to happen. Think life’s given you a raw deal? Look around and you will see everyone else is much worse off. Want to become richer/thinner/fitter/better? Just be more creative or industrious. Want to become company president? Get yourself a mentor. Want a lover who doesn’t want you? Ignore him/her and he/she will come running. Is life really that easy? No, there’s no answer to that.

The self-help books that target women are the most offensive. Even their titles are patronising. Consider Smart Women, Foolish Choices; He’s Just Not That Into You; If This is Love, Why Am I Unhappy; and Why Hasn’t he Proposed? Do women really think of nothing other than men?

Maybe I’m being too harsh, and judgmental. After all, Hilary Clinton reads self-help books. As do Jennifer Lopez and Oprah Winfrey. And the above-mentioned tomes are among the world’s best-selling books. Perhaps in a world of ever-increasing aspirations, the very promise of being loved or the hope of becoming smarter/richer/fatter/thinner can make people ignore a few slights. Perhaps an overly-competitive world justifies a need for constant validation. Perhaps the continual purchase of some ‘tools of change’ is a gesture of hope, and a temporary shelving of despair.

Still, my logical side makes me wonder if, despite their obvious popularity, self-help books actually help their readers. The very fact that 80 per cent of the customers are repeat buyers would seem to indicate not. But then as Dale Carnegie, the very king of self-improvement, says in his iconic book, How to Win Friends and Influence People: “When dealing with people, let us remember we are not dealing with creatures of logic. We are dealing with creatures of emotion, creatures bristling with prejudices and motivated by pride or vanity.”

He should know. His 1936 ‘people’s book’ has so far sold 15 million copies worldwide. Steven Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People has sold over 25 million copies since its publication in 1989. And these are only two in a very, very long line of self-appointed lifestyle gurus churning out wisdom and selling books in numbers that Chetan Bhagat can only dream of.

Which is why I’ve decided to get into the game. After all, isn’t that what the Bhagwad Gita, the mother of all self-help books, asks us to do? Stop thinking and get cracking? I’ll have to ignore the other part of the teachings though—the one that asks us not to focus on rewards. I’m aiming to talk to the rich—to get rich. Enough of reading for pleasure.

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