Monday, 10 January 2011

The Noticer - Positive Thoughts for the Dummies

Inspired by the amazing reviews read in the newspapers, I finally bought Andy Andrews's novel of positive thoughts, The Noticer. A huge huge disappointment. The author is celebrated as one of the most influential American authors; he has read lectures as a personal favor to four American presidents. His novels are worldwide bestsellers. So what? The Noticer just doesn't do it for me.

My father was the first one to read it and he just said "Well this book is a joke". I know my father and his skepticism towards the so-called "self-help books". So I didn't really believe his review. Unfortunately, this time he was right.

The Noticer is the story of an old man called Jones (not Mr Jones, just Jones), who goes around Alabama talking to its citizens and pointing out what is wrong with their lives and how it can be fixed. As the old man says himself "I am a Noticer. I notice things that are invisible to other people. " So far so good. Jones insists that for one to change his lifestyle, one just needs a new better perspective. Indeed true. Andy Andrews's ideas are brilliant but their implementation is just mediocre. The Noticer consists of several tales, in which Jones meets a person or a family with a problem, talks to them for several hours and suddenly changes their life for good. Call me realist, pessimist, or cynic, but this is highly unlikely to happen in the real world. If we could fix our problems by just talking to a wise old man, then there will be no problems to solve. I mean, the self-destructive habits that rule our life are rooted so deeply that it takes more than one talk to change them. Not so in the novel though. Upon talking to Jones, people miraculously realize all their wrongdoings and start changing their lives for the better. I do not buy this even a bit. Having experience a lot of problems and a lot of people with problems, I can claim with certainty that this kind of talk will only provoke ridicule and laughter. It would never change the person.

Do not get me wrong. I know The Noticer is just a novel and I might be judging it far too severely. However, I have read many psychological and positive books and I know what I am talking about. Some novels, like Laurent Gounelle's touch your heart and show you the SLOW and DIFFICULT process of realizing your mistakes and fixing them. In Laurent Gounelle's literature, the protagonist again meets his old man but the process of transformation last a lot more than one conversation and is accompanied by disbelief, rejection, suspicion, and downfalls. And indeed, this makes it more realistic and close to the human heart. What Andrews does is create a positive novel for the dummies: "You will meet a strange old man, who will point out all of your misfortunes, you will realize your mistakes, and you will start changing them within 10 minutes". This really sounds like positive thoughts for the dummies. I have had my problems, people have shared their wisdom with me in their 15 minutes of fame, and trust me, this has changed nothing. The only feelings it has provoked in me are hostility and anger towards the unasked advisor.

The only thing I liked in the novel is Jones's metaphor about the four different ways people love. Some people love with words; they need to hear the actual words and express their affection similarly. These people are like dogs, who constantly need your approval to feel appreciated. Other people love with their actions. They will iron your shirt, cook you diner, fix the house, and they expect the same from you in return. These people are goldfish - the goldfish care whether you change their water or give them food. Third people love with their touch. They express positive affection by staying closely to their beloved. They are cats, who need attention and a gentle hand to feel loved. The last group of people love with time. They measure love by the time spent with the object of their affection. They are canary birds. The canary birds just wants someone to stay close by and to listen to its song.

I must admit the above metaphor is quite original and interesting. What Andrews ingeniously points out is the reason that many marriages fall apart, is that people express their love differently. What is more, the way they express their love is the way they expect their spouse expresses it as well. Thus, even though people may still love each other, they are confused and lost and fail to revive their relationship.

Given the above, if you are looking for a positive self-help book, look somewhere else. Andy Andrews's The Noticer is just too shallow a reading for intelligent people like us.

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