I’m a fan of self-help books.
Maybe it started in high school in the 1970s when an older cousin mailed me a paperback copy of “I’m OK-You’re OK,” by Dr. Thomas A. Harris.
Receiving an unexpected book in the mail was a treat, and the idea that she thought I was smart enough to enjoy this book made my head swell. Turns out, the book went onto the New York Times Best Seller list about the time she gave it to me and stayed there for two years. It has sold more than 15 million copies and been translated into a dozen languages.
It’s now a self-help classic about self-understanding.
Not long after, a group at my childhood church, Parkview Baptist, studied “The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth” by M. Scott Peck. It, too, sold several million copies and was translated into 23 languages. The book opens with “Life is difficult” and discusses the journey to spiritual growth.
Recently, seeing so many self-help books on bestseller lists, I’ve thought about why I pick up this genre:
–I like learning about myself and what makes me tick. Even if I don’t agree with all an author says (and who does, really?), I like hearing the perspectives of others and looking for ways to enrich my daily life. When I ponder a book, I consider my own life, routine, goals and so forth.
–Inspiration and motivation. Just like I need a cup of dark-roast Community Coffee to get me going each morning, I like to read encouraging words early in the day. I start with a Psalm from the Bible and go from there. Having a fresh self-help book is like a second jolt of caffeine. Even reading a page or two can help me handle my day better.
—Curiosity. Sometimes I want to see what the big deal is about a certain book or how common-sense info is repackaged. Why has it attracted so much attention? What does its sales tell me about our national psyche?
Recent self-help reads
—Curiosity drove me to check out a library copy of “Girl, Stop Apologizing: A Shame-Free Plan for Embracing and Achieving Your Goals,” the new book by Rachel Hollis. I’d read a magazine interview about her and was fascinated in the immense popularity of her books, which are geared to women younger than me and centered on the author’s “lifestyle brand.” The premise of the new book: “I believe we can change the world. But first, we’ve got to stop living in fear of being judged for who we are.”
Even though I’m not her target reader, I enjoyed her breezy, personal, almost in-your-face style and can see why her brand of encouragement is popular.Hollis is also the author of the bestseller, “Girl, Wash Your Face: Stop Believing the Lies About Who You Are So You Can Become Who You Were Meant to Be.” The premise of this book: “Do you ever suspect that everyone else has life figured out and you don’t have a clue. If so, Rachel Hollis has something to tell you: that’s a lie.” (For those of you who don’t think self-help sells: This is a No. 1 NYT bestseller, this book has 10,745 reviews on Amazon, most of which are four or five stars.)
—A desire to eat healthier and lose weight brought me to “Food Rules: an eater’s manual” by Michael Pollan with fantastic illustrations by Maira Kalman. (OK, I might also have bought this book because I love the way it looks.) This is a newer edition of Pollan’s book that has been a bestseller as people embrace better ways to eat. I first saw his philosophy painted on the wall of a restaurant in Denver: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” I was curious about that philosophy and found his books. If you’re a foodie or a fan of the Slow Food movement or want to give a pretty, smart book as a gift, I recommend this one.
—I was working with a writing coach on a screenplay a few years ago when I first heard about “You are a Bada–: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life” by Jen Sincero. The book, which came out in 2013, had just released, and I winced at the title and didn’t buy it. (This was the first self-help book I noticed with profanity in the title, but I’m now seeing many more…) But it kept coming up on “best of” lists and hit No. 1 on the NYT bestseller list. In an airport one day with too much bookstore time, I bought a copy—and enjoyed it. Sincero is a witty writer who believes strongly in her message. (Warning: She sprinkles profanity throughout the book, so this one definitely won’t be for everyone.) While I don’t agree with all the absolutes she puts forth, I like her words about being grateful and going for the things we want in life. Again, young adult readers may find lots of nuggets in here.
—A friend and I were discussing today’s contentious politics, and she gave me a copy of a book she loves, “Unoffendable: How Just One Change Can Make All of Life Better” by Brant Hansen. This book, written from a Christian perspective, talks about dropping anger, embracing forgiveness and choosing not to be offended. An example: “The thing that you think makes your anger ‘righteous’ is the very thing you are called to forgive.” (Ironically, if you’re offended by my recommendation of “You Are A Bad—,” you might really enjoy this book.)
We need to be reminded
Will a self-help book transform your life and teach you something brand-new? Likely not. But maybe it will help you with a course correction or a new perspective. As Dr. Samuel Johnson said, back in the 1700s, “People need to be reminded more often than they need to be instructed.” A good self-help book is a fine reminder.
Book columnist Judy Christie is the author of 18 books, including the self-help “Hurry Less Worry Less” series (her first published books) and the upcoming nonfiction work: “Before and After: The Incredible Real-Life Stories of Orphans Who Survived the Tennessee Children’s Home Society,” which releases October 22.