Ferenc Máté’s “A Real Life”

Something didn’t sit right with me the minute I cracked the cover of Ferenc Máté’s A Real Life:  A Simpler, Secure, Healthier Future.

It was the title.

See, I have an inherent problem with self-help books, and many more inherent problems with books that pretend not to be self-help books (a category all its own, and one for a later post). But I won’t continue on so unreasonably, because I know some people do feel like they benefit from the content found in The Secret and comparable titles, and I can’t really touch that. I can’t tell people from whence they should draw their strength and inspiration.

Ferenc Máté, though, is a bit different from your usual Dr. Oz’s and Joel Osteens. He does not speak as a licensed medical professional or middleman come from God to tell us how we ought to be; rather, he is, by the looks of my preliminary Google search, an author, winemaker, and sailor – no more elaborate platform than that.

But don’t assume that the humility of his job description is synonymous with authority on the matter of “The Good Life.” Máté’s tactics are just as calculated as anyone that sells a self-help tome. Take, for example, the title of the book, as I mentioned earlier. To name any part of your publication “A Real Life” is to insist that we, the readers, conduct our daily lives in a way that ISN’T real, much less ideal or advisable. By virtue of existing in an urban, 21st-century setting (an offense of which your DBC|READS bloggers are CERTAINLY guilty), we are, in effect, doing All The Wrong Things That Are Fake. (The original subtitle was “Restoring What Matters,” which basically implies that we’re strayed sinfully farther from What Matters than I care to think about.) The mere fact that you’re reading this blog is a big blunder, one that our author would place in the “i-this, i-that” category of disillusionment (direct quote). Funny complaint for someone with his own pristine, highly animated website.

And then about halfway through chapters with titles like “How do you Hug an Electronic Friend?”, I flipped to the back to read the author bio:

“…He and his family work the Máté vineyards and olive groves surrounding the 13th century friary they restored in Montalcino, Tuscany.”

Restoring “what matters” suddenly seems like it would be a costly business, indeed.

I’m not saying that Máté’s motives are questionable. I really could believe that he wants to help people find their way to their own 13th century friaries, as it were. It’s just that Máté’s vision of what makes a life “matter” is backed only by telegraphic wisps of idealism:

“To rezone and remodel our lives into authentic neighborhoods would take mostly goodwill and some work by every neighbor. There would be costs incurred but if we can find $700 billion to bail out millionaires, and $1 billion a year for the military…then I’m sure a few thousand per family can be found to get new villages started—safe, healthy, vibrant, free of crime—villages that could serve the whole world as a shining example…”

Passages like this continue to call back to a past I’m not sure we ever really experienced, one which admittedly is really nice to believe in, even if we know it’s a retroactive pipe dream. That’s the essence of self-help books, really. They’re not looking to provide you with solutions. They’re looking to substantiate the reasons behind your current misery. They’re looking to jump out at you from a bookstore endcap and scream, you are not alone. Because of course we worry about the same things he does. Of course we’d rather envision ourselves preparing olive groves for the harvest.

But if we were all out tilling the Tuscan fields, who’d be writing book after book on the lucrative topic of How We Lost Our Way? And where would all the consumers be to read them? Most importantly of all—who’d be publishing those books?

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One thought on “Ferenc Máté’s “A Real Life”

  1. […] not the most sentimental human being. If my ruminations on self-help books didn’t prove this enough, suffice it to say that I am the sort of person that scrutinizes […]

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