Sunday, June 21, 2009

An Article From the Ledger-Enquirer in Columbus, Ga

Our strange love affair with self-help books

- ssorich@ledger-enq

Ladies, let me introduce you to the newest happy pill.

Addiction doesn’t involve excessive funds, an altered lifestyle or social secrecy.

No, all you need is a good reading light.

Want the hookup? Hit your local bookstore’s self-help aisle.

Of course, if you’re desperate for a fix, you’ll have to brave titles like “Make Every Man Want You.” “If I’m So Wonderful, Why Am I Still Single?” And “How to Shop for a Husband: A Consumer Guide to Getting a Great Buy on a Guy.”

A recent Forbes article made waves online by attempting to pinpoint factors behind a female obsession with the self-help universe.

In 2008, women purchased 74 percent of books sold in the relationship and family section, according to research cited by Forbes. The article attributes the statistic to elements ranging from self-esteem to evolution.

It’s easy to love the genre. A far cry from the bleak stigma that used to come with asking for aid, its books now line shelves with flashy titles vibrantly colored covers.

“Help is on the way,” they scream. “Act now and you’ll even get a romantic cartoon at the beginning of every chapter!”

The lure is enticing, but not everyone’s buying it.

Some sources have responded to the Forbes article by calling attention to the female self-help manual’s weaknesses.

Among the criticisms? The books often place too strong an emphasis on the importance of romantic happiness.

Then there’s a bigger problem: The fact that the books’ solutions must be universally pleasing enough to sell copies. So instead of targeted, customized guidance, you’re getting, well, the literary equivalent of a fortune cookie message.

The New Yorker notes, “Desperate times call for desperate books, but sometimes self-help is not the kind a woman needs.”

Once, while on the verge of a romantic breakup, I called a friend. Her guidance?

“Hang out in the self-help section of Barnes & Noble for a couple hours. That always works for me.”

One woman’s cure is another woman’s poison. I perused the self-help aisle, only to immerse myself in earth-shattering revelations like — brace yourself — a guy might not be that into you if he already has a wife.

It made me agree with this recent post on women’s blog Jezebel:

“It’s not that all self-help authors are malevolent misogynists — it’s just that it’s not really possible to write a book called ‘How To Figure Out What’s Exactly Right For Your Unique, Individual Life, And Then Do That.’ People have to do that on their own.”

Relationship self-help manuals aren’t useless. Odds are, my friend really does cleanse her soul when she hibernates in a bookstore. But it’s likely the books’ guidance only resonates with her because she’s made a conscious choice to change.

And that decision is perhaps the most valuable happy pill of all.

No comments: