The BYOB Party in July kickstarted with a discussion on self-help books. We’ve worked on a self-help book infographic which you may want to look at and also published a story on self-help vs helplessness on the blog. In one of our earlier BYOB Parties, Abhaya mentioned a book called Wrong: Why experts keep failing us–and how to know when not to trust them. So we are familiar with the quandaries of self-help literature.

Nadeem is a big fan of motivational books. The book he spoke about was The One Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan. As the title implies, the one thing is what you need to focus on and that can lead to mastery. The book has helped him to achieve his own design-related goals. He also recommends books by Robert Greene including MasteryThe 48 Laws of PowerThe Art of Seduction, and The 33 Strategies of War.

Suprith followed in the self-help trail with a book called So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport. Cal was a grad student at MIT doing his Ph.D. in computer science when the economic crises hit. This compelled him to research on how to make a great career. His research led him to address a fundamental question. Is passion really the bedrock of a great professional life? He mentions Steve Job’s Stanford lecture where passion is mentioned as an essential requirement and this led to a tangential conversation about Steve Job’s own passions from calligraphy to entrepreneurship and Zen. Newport spoke to experts in their fields from organic farmers, venture capitalists, screenwriters, freelance computer programmers to musicians and went on to discover that passion was rare and not a prerequisite for success. The book is not just about debunking the passion hypothesis; it also talks about the craftsman mindset which usually involves a more output-centered approach, which jargon aside simply means that a skilled craftsman keeps working on the craft. It’s not pure passion but lots of hard work that gets you from point A to B. So where did the title come from? Turns out it’s a Steve Martin quote.

Pratibha spoke about the captivating book Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki and Sharon Lechter. She mused on the problem that the middle-class people face; they are continuously in the rat race and remain middle class. Kiyosaki addresses problems like these by focusing on the importance of tax management and not getting into debt. On the flip side, Jaya warns that as compelling as this bestseller may be, the book is not reliable when it comes to setting your own finances in order. Some of the readers in the group were also concerned about the author himself having had to declare bankruptcy.

Another book that provides unconventional solutions is The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferris where he writes about how one can leave a 9-5 job and earn the same amount of money and then there is the book Secret by Rhonda Byrne that talks about how we can use the law of attraction to attract good things into our lives.

While there was a hum of assent for Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist, considering how you could go back to the book at varying points in your life and dig out fresh meaning, many readers spoke against the merits of self-help literature in general. After all,  was there any book after reading which you become rich? You may want to listen to the comedian George Carlin making a dig at self-help books. This is a debate that has no clear-cut answers.

Abhaya added that a self-help book that would be useful to readers was How to Read a Book by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren. Some readers in the group were skeptical about whether a book could teach you how to read, but Abhaya went on to describe how this book offers a practical approach to reading difficulties that could crop up depending on genre, length and level of difficulty. For instance, gaining from reading history would require the reading of two or more history books based in the same place. In case of a play, unless it is a closet play that is meant to be read silently, the best way to read it would be aloud.

You may want to go through these book reviews at our Review and a Half segment where we featured this book:

How to Read a Book- Part 1

How to Read a Book- Part 2

More books in Part 2.