'Who moved my cheese?' by Dr Spencer Johnson
'Who moved my cheese?' by Dr Spencer Johnson
Image: Penguin Random House

To Penguin Random House for a quick preview of books they have coming in the next months. A weight of huge names, as it turns out:  Haruki Murakami, Lee Child, John Boyne, Kate Atkinson, Yuval Noah Harari and, the biggest event of the year, Michelle Obama’s autobiography Becoming.

But there was another book that caught my eye - Out of the Maze by Spencer Johnson. Remember Who Moved My Cheese? It’s 20 years since Johnson’s slim parable was published. It was an unlikely management/self- help book, given that it starred two mice called Sniff and Scurry and two “littlepeople” called Hem and Haw. And a pile of cheese. It offered lessons on how to cope positively with change, doled out in aphorisms of near-imbecilic simplicity, such as “Smell the cheese often so you know when it is getting old”; “Movement in a new direction helps find new cheese” and “Life moves on and so should we”. It has sold — get this — 28-million copies. And has been translated into 44 languages.

The good Doctor Spencer (he was an MD) died late last year just after completing the follow-up. And no tasteless cracks here about gone to the great dairy in the sky.

According to the publicity, Out of the Maze “shows how readers can adapt their beliefs and achieve better results in any field”.

“Johnson’s theme is that all of our accomplishments are due to our beliefs: whether we’re confident or insecure, cynical or positive, open-minded or inflexible.”

Rolling my eyes at yet another wodge of reductionist claptrap - try telling a student with a heavy loan and few job opportunities not to be insecure -  I searched my library shelves and blew the dust off Darrel Bristow-Bovey’s priceless I Moved Your Cheese, his waggish response to Johnson’s and other self-help books. DB-B might not be the young blade on the back cover any more but the wit hasn’t dimmed one bit.

"Do not be afraid of wrestling with wisdom,” he intones. “If it has been sitting cross-legged on a mountaintop for any considerable length of time, it will probably be slightly malnourished and easily manhandled."

That’s my kind of self-help book.

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