“A billion percent of people exaggerate when using motivational statistics.”
Sometimes I feel like I’m winning at China, and other times I feel like I’m the only square peg in a box full of round arseholes. Sometimes, for example, I enjoy the food. Other times I’m cursing the chef for misinterpreting ‘very little spice’ as meaning that I want enough spice to turn myself into the Kwisatz Haderach!*
I’ve mentioned before that I love comic books (or what the PC brigade seem to insist on calling ‘graphic novels’, a term actually coined by Will Eisner because he was trying to get a very large comic book published). For me, the literary event of 2015 hasn’t been Scottish Book Week or the Man Booker or even the Bookworm literature festival in Sanlitun, it’s been the publication of Chuck Palahniuk’s comic book sequel to Fight Club, an event I’ve actually missed out on because Beijing is seemingly the English-language-comic-book equivalent of a black hole’s event horizon.
I’ve also previously lamented the fact that it’s difficult to find good books here,** but it’s nigh on impossible to find any English-language comic books. Beijing Comics City is impressive enough, if you like plastic action figures or lots of escalators or wasting your time fruitlessly searching for things written by Warren Ellis.
Yesterday I visited the Beijing Books Building in Xidan, meaning I’ve now been to all five of Beijing’s foreign language book outlets. To my surprise, they had a few ‘graphic novels’, mostly Marvel titles. I left empty handed, but it’s close enough on Line 1 for me to pay it another curious visit after Xmas.
So much for the least frequently read genre here in the Jing. What are English readers in China actually interested in? The answer seems to be ‘self improvement’ (or, as the aforementioned Fight Club author calls it, ‘masturbation’). Just as every charity shop in Britain is guaranteed to have at least one dog-eared copy of The Da Vinci Code and The Time Traveller’s Wife, every bookshop in Beijing is guaranteed to have a paperback edition of ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’ and ‘Think and Grow Rich’. I even spotted the principal of the teaching centre I work at with a book called ‘Positive Discipline’ tucked under her arm (suspiciously soon after I’d had a row with her, as a matter of fact).
The late, great George Carlin once moaned, in a routine entitled ‘A List of People Who Oughta Be Killed’, “Why do so many people need [self help books]? Life is not that complicated: You get up, you go to work, you eat three meals, you take one good shit and you go back to bed! What’s the fucking mystery?”
I’ve read a lot of self help books in the past. One of them gave me enough confidence to try a yoga class and some martial arts lessons and, ultimately, be brave enough to make the move to China. Another actually led me to meet and learn from one of my favourite screenwriters, Geoff Thompson. But that’s because I felt sufficiently ‘motivated’ to get up and do something, rather than being motivated to sit down and read another self help book!
I like the genre, but I find most of the titles infuriating. For example, Think and Grow Rich isn’t called Get Up Off Your Lazy Arse And Grow Rich. How To Be A Productivity Ninja isn’t subtitled ‘Not That Anybody in the Whole World Will Ever Take You Seriously If You Start Calling Yourself That’. Also, so many titles use words like ‘Success’ or ‘Happiness’ in them. I can only speak for myself, but spending £15 on the success formula behind someone with no academic qualifications and poor research skills is pretty bloody unlikely to make me happy. It’s like a friend of mine (who, like me, is soon to be elected Beijing’s joint-Cheermeister General) said: “Anyone who’s fucking happy all the time brings me down! I can’t be doing with that!”
There’s a whole spectrum of human emotions, from incandesent happiness to wanting to punch some well-groomed American ‘guru’ in the nadsack. There’s also other measures of success than the size of an ego and bank account. Where are the books on unhappiness? Where’s Awaken the Manic Depressive Wearing a String Vest Within? Where’s How to Feel Crippling Spiritual Emptiness But Own a Yacht?
The self help industry is full of vague or totally made up statics: “A recent study shows that 95% of us are unhappy”. What study? 95% of who? Where can I buy a better book than this?
The industry is also full of vague or totally made up platitudes, a perfect example being “Nothing succeeds like success”. What’s that saying, exactly? Isn’t that a bit like muttering “buses are like buses. You wait ages for a bus and then a bus turns up”?
“Fake it till ya make it”
“Gain an attitude of gratitude”
“Feel the fear and do it anyway”
All invite pretty much the same response as those slick looking men in Sanlitun Bar Street shouting “Hello, you want ladybird?”
(“What the actual balls are you talking about, and just how quickly can you get out of my face?”)
George Carlin also pointed out that “If you’re looking for self help, why would you read a book written by someone else? That’s not ‘self help’, that’s ‘help’!”
Issue number seven of Fight Club 2 is out now, at all good booksellers 5000 miles away.
*Congratulations if you didn’t have to Google that reference. You are a nerd.
** Particularly science fiction and fantasy. I can, if I ever feel inclined, rekindle my childhood love of Forgotten Realms and Dragonlance, or pop my World of Warcraft or Assassins Creed tie-in cherry, but I’m not anticipating ever being that desperate.