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Are Self-Help Books 'real literature'?

posted 14 Nov 2013, 09:35 by Dave Simon   [ updated 18 Nov 2013, 13:48 ]

I wonder sometimes if self-help books are side-lined too often – not reviewed, not rated, not valued very much unless by the readers who want to learn from them.

Is that fair?
Is there an argument to take this genre seriously?

“Literature adds to reality, it does not simply describe it”, said CS Lewis. Well DIY books do that - they explain things and help people solve problems. And “Literature transmits incontrovertible condensed experience” said Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Self-development books do that, par excellence, making things simple and do-able.

But “Literature is a luxury”, said Gilbert K. Chesterton. Well, here we have a problem. People buying self-help books are usually motivated – perhaps desperate – to change something. Hardly luxury...

And maybe it is “the art of discovering something extraordinary about ordinary people, and saying with ordinary words something extraordinary.” (Boris Pasternak). If that’s what we are expecting then maybe we are indeed side-lining self-help books as ‘just mundane reality’.

“Literature - creative literature - unconcerned with sex, is inconceivable...” said Gertrude Stein. Surely, sex is not usually relevant, except with Joy of Sex type books (does porn count as self-help?) Does that mean that literature can only be fiction?

There is an opinion that literature is entertainment or it it nothing. Well, most self-help books don’t even try to be entertaining – it’s clearly not their aim.

‘Old Magic in Everyday Life’ is a self-help book. Aiming at spiritual development, it entertains, explains, describes the extraordinary, but only mentions sex in passing. I would say it adds to reality, bringing the sixth sense to the fore and raising the possibility of multiple lives (and in a multiverse, why not?). And it includes autobiographical stories – and what a story-teller the author is!) as background to understanding the subject. But it’s still not a luxury, really...

Well, we could get into a deep analysis of the fundamentals of literature (like freewill, courage, suffering, achievement) and the dramatics (surprise, mystery, suspense, etc.) but I’d like to open the subject.

What do you think?
Dave Simon (husband of Mhairi).