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What would happen if a self-help book actually worked?
on 9 June 2004
Edwin de Valu is your typical American Gen-X anti-hero. Each day he stumbles out into the roar of a city he hates, to a job he hates, with a baby-boomer boss he hates. He lives beyond his means in a trendy rehabbed neighbourhood with a wife he, well, doesn't like very much. It's the contemporary, urban, American dream! As editor of the non-fiction division of Panderic Books, Edwin is put on the spot during a meeting. He has been promising an idea to fill the gap in Panderic's up-coming catalogue - a gap created by the prosecution of Mr Ethics, Panderic's biggest self help author, for tax evasion. Before he knows it, Edwin is pitching a book found in his "slush pile" that morning.' What I Learned on the Mountain', by Tupak Soiree, is a typewritten manuscript covered with stick-on daisies and a hand-written note on the bottom of the title page, which reads, "Live, Love, and Learn". Hardly the kind of sentiment Edwin is likely to applaud, but it's too late, he's pitched it and his boss loves it.
Edwin rushes from the meeting to retrieve 'What I Learned on the Mountain' from his rubbish bin and finds it missing. A chase for the book, and subsequently its author, ensues. Along the way Edwin discovers that the self-help book actually works. Its readers become fabulously rich, quit smoking, and have enhanced sexual prowess. Unfortunately, it turns out that a society full of enriched, happy people has dire consequences for the world economy and eventually someone figures out Edwin is responsible.
The humour in Happiness TM is needless to embrace - from Canada to Denmark via England, Ferguson's laissez-faire satire proves itself universally insightful. Now, for the idea of this anti-hero being the Satre of 21st century... perhaps. He enlights the issues of instant gratifaction/gloricifation and concludes that our vices make us the protagonists we are - not by mocking the people who try and fail, but the people who succeed. For people like me who hate the way the world's turning - this is a must-read.