You have probably spotted people like me, on my own on the subway. At first glance, I don’t look like some desperate self-diagnosed loser, but every few minutes when I come across a particularly strong passage, I will face-and-neck-blush with shame. So I hunch over my e-reader a little more; I’m reading something totally cringe-worthy, and I am desperate for you not to look over my shoulder.
I have a long suffering, not ironic love for self-help. From pamphlets by swamis to sassy relationship books called things like It’s Called A Breakup Because It’s Broken, when a crisis strikes, my instinct is to curl up with a book. Because if you’re sniveling in bed waiting for your ex to call, you need a total stranger to quote cute aphorisms at you—like “even with all the mayonnaise in the world, you can’t make chicken salad out of chicken s–t.”
Some of them have been helpful. When reading The Ethical Slut the other day, I balked at the idea of attending a sex party. But the authors wrote brilliantly about the crazy emotions that accompany adventurous love lives. “Jealousy is the mask worn by the your most difficult inner conflict” practically jumped off the page at me, and was not a lesson that I had to wife-swap to understand.
Other self-help books I read have been a bit more stupid. When iconic magazine editor Helen Gurley Brown died, I mourned her by diving into her retro handbook, Sex and the Single Girl. None of the advice made any sense, but damn, if that tatty old hardcover wasn’t worth its weight in shipping fees. Apparently, “one of the paramount reasons for staying attractive is to have somebody to go to bed with,” and “money, if it does not bring you happiness, will at least help you be miserable in comfort.”
But hey. It made me laugh.
The worst a self-help book can do is remind you that you are already an expert in a few matters of the heart. I willingly admit that the only book I’ve ever trashed was the The Seven Levels of Intimacy. Being told “we can never get enough of what we don’t really need” sounded less like a Pinterest quote and more like a reminder to stop buying vanilla lattes.
OK: I admit these books are not right for everyone. Most people (including me, sometimes) suspect self-help is written for the weak, the desperate, and the gullible. But much as I’m embarrassed by my self-help habit, I still love getting to the final page of a book and realizing I’m no longer intimidated by my problems.
Who knows—maybe the next one will help me get over my genre shame.
Ellie Broughton is a 28-year-old journalist and editor from London, UK. She loves writing about books and also likes making readers laugh. She tweets at @___ellie.
(Image via Stephen Kelleher.)