Self-Help Books

smalllastlecturecoverIt never fails: When I’m unsteady in life I buy a self-help book. It comes over me, this desire to read the words of someone else, hopefully someone wise, hopefully someone whose words get me thinking about my life in a new way, or at least optimistically.

So, the other day I bought a little book called The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch. I haven’t started it yet. In fact, it’s sitting on the dining table. It looks inviting. Knowing it’s there soothes me.

A strange coping mechanism, I guess. But then, I don’t have religion to fall back on. I don’t have a therapist (though my friends are wonderful stand-ins for that) either.

I do have the writing. I’ve noticed over the past few weeks that sinking into the writing wipes everything else out of my mind. I’ve been working hard, in fact. Could writing be my religion?

Hmm…Was that a sacrilegious thought? Or  blasphemous? And what’s the difference between those two words?

If, as I believe, there are as many ways to find faith or succour or simply steadiness as there are people on Earth, then why not fall back on writing? Now that I’m thinking about this, I realize that I stopped looking for a system of belief when I got serious about my writing. Whatever it was I’d been looking for my whole life, I’d found.

Comforting, that.

Still, like I was saying, in times of excess turmoil, I like a self-help book too. And I’ve got some doozies on my shelves, I’ll tell you that much! It’s kind of funny, actually. And, it may be weird, but then, context is everything. I hail from lapsed Catholic stock, and my parents’ stock was VERY Catholic. My parents moved from the Midwest and eventually settled in one of the most liberal, swinging areas of the United States. This was the 1960s. Dad wore Berkenstocks instead of ties. Mom took ceramics classes and baked her cookies with wheat germ, whole wheat flour, and brown sugar. She was a health-food nut before it became the rage. I detested her healthy pancakes and always tried to finagle a sleepover at my friend Kathy’s house so that I could indulge in Bisquick pancakes.

I remember the big leather-bound Bible on the bookshelves. It was red with gold leaf and a section of pretty pictures. (I still remember the burning bush, but I couldn’t tell you the story behind it.)  It was just another book, squeezed in between Jung’s Man and his Symbols and Dad’s Arquitectural Digest magazines. I guess that says it all about our heathen ways.

Anyhow, what I going to say is that my parents were amongst the original New Agers, before New Agers became a thing and got a bad rap for rubbing crystals. (My parents weren’t of that ilk.) My parents like a good self-help book, so I suppose this is where my predilection for them comes from. It’s my brand of comfort the way Sunday service is for others.

To each his own, right? What are your comfort coping mechanisms in hard times?

0 comments on “Self-Help Books

  • Another New Age-raised child putting her hand up here. I don’t read self-help books much anymore either, but when I do and especially if they are New Age-y, it is always with a feeling of “I knew that, but thanks for reminding me”. It’s like a warm home-coming.

    Hope you are find solace there.

  • This has nothing to do with the current entry but just wanted you to know that I only just NOW found your nov 14 post where I was tagged to do a meme – I never saw it ’til now! Geez, nanowrimo really blinded me in some ways. So I was sifting through this “new” wordpress format looking at stuff and found it. So I will do it later today. It is a cool meme; as you point out, it’s interactive!
    Now off to a wreath-making workshop. No, I’m not crafty; it’s a family event. And, I need a wreath!

  • That’s so right on, Charlotte — the warm homecoming feeling. That, more than anything the books actually say, gets me feeling good!

    Hi oh — hah! I wondered if anyone noticed that meme. You might have been the first!

  • Kathleen Peacock says:

    “It never fails: When I’m unsteady in life I buy a self-help book.”

    I often do the same, though I rarely finish them. I usually read just long enough to realize that this will not be the magical book which changes my life, builds my self esteem, awakens my inner giant, and brings me financial stability.

    A few months ago, I ran into a coworker in the self help section. What an awkward five minutes as we chit chatted, assured each other that we rarely ventured into that section, and tried to hide the titles of the respective books we were holding.

  • Welcome Kathleen! You’re right, of course, no book will solve my current woes. Often, I don’t finish them either, I think because I know most of what they have to say. They serve as good reminders.

    And what a funny anecdote!

  • Self-help books for me too! Not really the New age inspirational type, but the “list of tips that look down-to-earth and feasable” type. I’m a great fan of Ann Lamott’s “Bird by bird” and also of Lesley Garner’s “Everything I’ve ever done that worked” (ambitious program, isn’t it?)

  • Hi Eve — Oh yeah, my dad was WAY into it. And the Jung was a deluxe version, full of pictures and all kinds of interesting bits of extra text. I wonder if my mom still has it? I’d love to have it, now that I’m thinking about it…

    Smithereens, I haven’t check on your haps in awhile — thanks for dropping in. I go for the Ann Lamott type of self-help books too. I’ll have to check out the Garner; sounds like there might be some pearls within it.

  • Well, i laughed at the thought of running into a co-worker in the self-help section — that sort of cringing laugh where you think, “glad that didn’t happen to me!” I love looking through self-help books — I’m especially interested in ones like this one that probe the powerful mind-body connection. Deborah King talks about the diseases or health conditions (cancer, AIDS, brain tumors, heart disease, diabetes, to name just some) that can come about as a result of our suppressing the truth about various aspects of our lives. Just think of all the times you KNOW something is wrong, but you ignore it. We all know that that’s not a good life plan. Healthy people know how to express their emotions. This helps you do that.

    You might not need any other self-help books after this one.


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