Bookish

Someone’s Staring at You Over in Personal Growth

  • Hello, 2019! High fives to all of us for making it through another round of holidays. Chances are, you’re feeling a little hung over from weeks of indulgent feasting, imbibing, merry-ing, and, lest we forget, spending.
          Lucky for us, the publishing world is here to help. Or help us help ourselves. See where I’m going, here? Of course, I’m talking about self-help books, the on-fire genre that has seen double-digit increases in sales each of the last couple of years.
          When (or where) did the whole self-help thing begin? That’s hard to say. Could Confucius be considered a guru? How about Thoreau? The line between philosophy and self-help can be fine, dear readers. Certainly, one of the earliest self-help commercial smashes was Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, which was first published in 1936 and still sells tens of thousands of copies every year.
          My introduction to self-help was by way of When Harry Met Sally. . . . You know the scene: Sally (Meg Ryan) and her friend Marie (Carrie Fisher) are chatting and browsing in a bookstore. Marie says, “Someone is staring at you in Personal Growth.” It’s Harry, of course, doing a terrible and creepy job of trying to hide behind a copy of What Jung Really Said.
          I remember pausing the VCR (yes, I’m ancient) to decipher the titles of the books on the table in front of Sally and Marie (yes, I’m a dork). A sampling: Making Life Right When It Feels All Wrong; Cold Feet; If I’m So Wonderful, Why Am I Still Single? and I Love You, Let’s Work It Out. The titles are chuckle-inducing, yes, but also whiny, fussy, and, well, yuppieish. (Harry and Sally were of the Me Generation, naturally.) They are also all real books, not just ones concocted for the film.
          In 2013, the initially quiet publication of a yellow paperback with black type ushered in a new generation of self-help titles. You know which one I’m talking about? Chances are you have a copy on your shelf. Of course, I’m referring to You Are a Badass by Jen Sincero, which has spent years on the bestseller lists. Sincero’s sassy, friend-to-friend, no-nonsense vibe has clicked with countless readers. I’ve lost count of how many customers (women and men) have told me the book changed their lives.
          Badass not only spawned follow-ups by Sincero (natch), but also a whole new wave of even more expletively titled, straight-talk tomes. Most notable is The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson, which has sold more than three million copies in just over two years. Also wildly popular is the Sarah Knight “No F*cks Given” series, which includes Get Your Sh*t Together and the just-published Calm the F*ck Down. The latest catchiest-title winner (I predict, anyway) is the forthcoming I Used to Be a Miserable F*ck by John Kim. I guess the publisher is counting on folks to hone in on the past tense in the title. Otherwise, I’m not sure anyone would want to read about a f*ck who’s still miserable. (Pardon all of the French, by the way.)
          On the other end of the present-day, self-help spectrum are the relatively new (at least to us here in the States) books from the School of Life, a London-based lifestyle company founded by writer Alain de Botton. The brand is “dedicated to developing emotional intelligence” (according to their website), and their books are not only gorgeously minimalist in design, but also full of insightful, thought-provoking content, covering a wide range of topics, from work life to relationships to self-knowledge to small pleasures.
          What say you, booklovers? Are you into self-help? Secretly or unabashedly? Do you consider yourself more of a self-help badass or a school-of-life student? Swing by the shop sometime to chat about this or any other bookish thing on your mind.