Actually, don’t answer that. As it happens I’ve been sent five in recent weeks by publishers who clearly see me as their target audience (this is one of the perks of the job).
Although, might I take the opportunity to point out that I’d prefer being gifted posh tea, a navy version of the spotted dress Julia Roberts wore in Pretty Woman (or any cream that will take 10 years off my face).
Anyway, the books.
Anyone seeing them on my shelf might conclude that I am: A) bonkers; B) traumatised; C) mean; or D) all of the above. They are titled, in no particular order: This Book Will Make You Kinder (my daughter has raised an eyebrow), Emotional Female (not self-help but looks like a brilliant read), You’re Not Broken: Break Free from Trauma And Reclaim Your Life, The Panic Years and How To Make The Biggest Decision Of Your Life.
Since the biggest decision of my life is what to cook for dinner, I placed this on the kitchen shelf until my daughter pointed out that it was a book about relationships. More specifically, how to have better ones.
Now I have a theory about self-help books and it won’t make publishers happy. For many years I’ve believed that these books could be condensed down to one sentence or, at the very least, one chapter.
Take Dale Carnegie’s 1937 classic How to Win Friends And Influence People. Basically, be nice and make others feel appreciated. Tick.
Or Eckhart Tolle’s The Power Of Now. He could’ve saved thousands of trees by simply putting out a pamphlet with the words: Be Present.
It’s the same with 10,000 Hours (theme: practice makes perfect), The Third Space (take a breather between one thing and the next) and the best-selling The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck (accept limitations, deal with crappy stuff).
That said, I’ll probably flick through Jordan Peterson’s upcoming Beyond Order: 12 More Rules For Life not just because he’s so amusingly polarising but because his last 12 “rules” included the eminently sensible and doable, “Stand up straight with your shoulders back”. Good posture, in my book – and perhaps it’s time I wrote another one – is your best accessory, as evidenced by US Vice President Kamala Harris at the recent inauguration.
I digress. The point is I was wrong. I’d like to say that I recently read a self-help book from cover to cover because I felt sorry that authors were doubtless having trouble shifting their wares due to the lack of airport customers. (Why do airport bookstores stock so many self-betterment manuals – is it even possible to overhaul your personality between here and LAX?)
I could also say I read the aforementioned How to Make The Biggest Decision Of Your Life because I had to interview one of the authors.
This is true but the real reason is I read the book on relationships because I’ve recently come to a groundbreaking conclusion: that we are the least educated on the thing that matters to us most. Indeed, as we gear up for Valentine’s Day I am perplexed as to why sentient humans would jostle for space in a restaurant for the manufactured joy of a love-themed set meal and an overpriced red rose yet will not seek expertise or advice on how to make their relationship succeed.
Even Gwyneth Paltrow, conscious uncoupler and canny purveyor of gifts you didn’t know you needed, is spruiking 24-carat gold handcuffs for $558 and a $260 device to improve your pelvic floor, rather than some hard-won wisdom which might actually make a difference.
So, love. I am exploring it and over the next few months will occasionally address my findings in this column. I have two daughters entering the relationship stage of their lives and it strikes me that they have learned more about Shakespeare and trigonometry and mitosis than they have about how to choose who they give their heart to and how to be a good partner.
Honestly, I have spent more time imploring them to set up superannuation funds than discussing what factors we all think are necessary for a healthy relationship.
In all aspects of physical health, we are told that prevention and screening is better than a cure. Diabetes, heart disease, cancer – they all come with extensive prevention drives.
But when it comes to love we are on our own. As Dr George Blair-West, who co-authored How to Make The Biggest Decision Of Your Life with his daughter Jiveny, told me: “Divorce is a condition that affects around 40 per cent of the population but there are no organised, government-funded prevention campaigns.”
Surely a condition that causes so much emotional, financial, psychological and physical pain deserves more attention.
By all means sprinkle your bed with rose petals next Sunday or spend up large on Gwynnie’s handcuffs. I’ll be swimming in the ocean pondering two notions: that we don’t “fall” in love, we “build” love; and that life is less about finding the right person and more about being the right person.
I know country music draws sneers but I beg you to listen to the gorgeous melodies of this Snowy Mountains-raised singer songwriter. Her song These Days is, indeed, a song for these days.
CAPTAIN SIR TOM MOORE
The British war veteran captured the nation by something as simple as walking around his garden. His death should remind us that every one of us, whatever our age or circumstance, can effect change.
As a swimmer I’m always looking for good sunscreen and this SPF 50 Aussie brand was manufactured by marine biologists to be reef safe and plastic free. Texture is amazing.