Your basket (0 items) | view basket
Bookmark and Share
Holland Park Press

Self-Help Book

17 January 2013 Zie Nederlandse versie
by Arnold Jansen op de Haar

Sometimes I find myself longing to write a self-help book. The most wonderful challenge is to write a self-help book about something you don’t know a thing about, such as: How to Survive as a Princess.

Tip 1: Don’t praise your portrait straight away, even if you did study history of art at St Andrews. Follow your grandmother-in-law’s example: give a friendly nod but remain noncommittal. Tip 2: Go easy with the Carmen Hair Curler.

On Friday, David Cameron travels to the Netherlands to give a speech about Europe. It makes me want to write a self-help book about Europe: Europe for the British. Point 1: Germany is always the boss, except when it has just lost a war. Point 2: The United Kingdom was right in realising that the euro lacked a sound political platform. Point 3: Europe needs the United Kingdom much more than the United Kingdom needs Europe. Point 4: The United Kingdom is crucial to balancing political forces in Europe, and this will eventually benefit the United Kingdom. Point 5: Those who want to know how the UK would look without the EU should try to remember how an average British meal tasted before 1973. Think back to Monty Python and SPAM. Point 6: Scotland is no more ‘European’ than England; it’s primarily more Scottish. Point 7: Herman van Rompuy may well look like a local bank manager, but he’s quite harmless: he’s president of the European Council. Point 8: In case war does break out after all, keep Boris Johnson close at hand to sort things out.

Self-help books addressing relationship problems are the most amusing. They could all have the same subtitle: How to state the obvious in twelve steps. Don’t fall for it, especially when it claims to be written by ‘the world’s best-known relationship therapist’. All the more so if this person proclaims: ‘Quarrelling is a form of protest against the loss of emotional connection.’

I could write self-help books about things I do know about. I’m thinking of: Ten Ways to Avoid Having Guests and Avoid Visiting Friends. Or: How to Prevent Familiarities by Shop Assistants. Tip 1: Alternate between shops on a regular basis. 

I don’t think they have a big potential readership.

The self-help book I would really love to write is: Why Certain Things are More Important than Others. Take DIY: a major part of life already consists of waiting, shopping, sleeping and removing hair from the shower plughole. Why would you spend your remaining time on DIY?

Instead, put your time in developing your talents. Well, you need to be able to identify your strong points. A lot of talent is wasted by athletes who do not reach the top.

Recently, I watched the 56 Up documentary, which has been following a group of children from the age of seven. The main premise of the programme makers was that the social class you are born into determines your degree of success in life. The documentary monitors the children every seven years, and they’re now 56.

My favourite is Neil. At the age of 28, he was homeless and wandering along the west coast of Scotland. From time to time he stayed in a caravan, and he didn’t seem to be in the best of mental health. In the end, when he was about 42, Bruce, who was also featured in the series, took him under his wing. And in 56 Up it seems that Neil has finally found his vocation: politics. He still walks with an odd hopping gait and writes every day – although he doesn’t actually know if there is anyone who wants to read it.

56 Up is about making a career and finding love, about success and failure. Still, 56 Up works like a kind of self-help book. A self-help book which says: you’re your own self-help book. We all mess about, and we can only try to make the best of it. Of course, 56 Up isn’t a self-help book; it feels more like a novel. Novels deal with real life, whereas self-help books chase an illusion.

© Arnold Jansen op de Haar
© Translation Holland Park Press

Visit Arnold's home page to find out more about his other publications.
Previous columns:

Tell a friend
Back to magazine

Magazine archive

May 2015
April 2015
March 2015
February 2015
January 2015
December 2014


What’s your History? competition
04 January 2013
Closed with 400 entries!
Find out more

Around the World in 80 Books
22 January 2013
We're invited to participate in a Readers’ Day
Find out more