I read a lot of self-help books, make of that what you will. I don’t just read self-help books though, I read a lot of non-fiction and a lot of novels too. I often find myself knocking through two, or even three over a weekend. I once had an amazing job as a reader for several production companies – each week a hefty package of books would arrive on my doorstep and I’d read them and write reports on whether I thought they’d make good TV adaptations or Films. I loved it, even when there were weeks I’d find myself reading nothing but detective fiction. Every wondered why there’s so many detective shows on TV? It’s because people like me think they make good TV. So blame me.
This week I’ve read three terrific books. I was so captivated by Reni Eddo-Lodge’s Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race that I read it straight through in one sitting. It’s absolutely bloody brilliant, relevant, and thought-provoking.
I was born, the youngest of three, to working-class Irish immigrant parents and brought up just off the Kilburn High Road in the early 70s, and yes, my parents experienced discrimination in their attempt to forge a better life for them and their children, but that pales into insignificance compared to the systematic discrimination suffered by people of colour in this country throughout our history. As a Catholic kid, my primary school was the most multi-cultural educational establishment I have ever been in – a faded class photograph from 1984 reminds me of just how diverse that small school was. In 1985 I went to the London Oratory, a Catholic boys school which was almost completely white, and from there to Bristol University in the 90’s – another (pretty much) all-white institution at that time. From Bristol, I came straight into “the industry” whose problems with diversity are well documented. Reading Eddo-Lodge’s seminal, explosive, work made me angry, wondering why black history and experiences had been all but erased from my education or, at best, skewed through a white gaze. If you’re interested in why race relations are in the mess they’re in today and why we’re seeing a rise in far-right politics, then I recommend Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race – in fact, it should be on the school syllabus.
In the way of one thing leading to another, I posted on Twitter that I’d read it and a friend who has similar taste in reading material recommended another book to me – Jessica Huie’s Purpose. I guess, broadly speaking, this falls in to the category of self-help, but it’s so much more that that. Huie writes about love and loss both beautifully and poetically. She began writing Purpose after the death of her father and it is, perhaps, a way of coming to terms with that loss but it’s also an examination of her own journey through life and an oftentimes painful analysis of the decisions and driving forces behind that – not least her experiences of growing up mixed-race in London in the 80s. I came away from Purpose feeling inspired, not in the way of many self-help books, to quit my job and take up yoga and meditation (although there was definitely some of that!) but more to address the “stories” I tell about my life, the narrative that has shaped my own journey, and to look at whether those stories are holding me back or helping me on. If you’re looking for a ‘How To Change Your Life’ guide, Purpose isn’t it but if you want to be inspired to change your mindset, understand why it’s more important to live a life full of purpose rather than acquisition, or just gain an insight into someone else’s life and take what lessons you can from it, then Purpose is for you.
Finally, the third book I read this week has had me chuckling away on my morning commute. Shine by Andy Cope and Gavin Oattes is one of those self-help books that blends scientific research with a humorous approach. While it’s an easy read, some of the lessons are harder to stomach – don’t be fooled by the laugh-a-minute approach, Shine makes you take a long hard look at yourself and your life.
The thing with both Shine and Purpose is just how bloody simple it all is – stop worrying about what others think of you, accept your own part in what’ happening in your life, and just be your own, authentic self. Simple to say, but much harder to do.