It’s Friday afternoon, and after a long day of haggling with people and traffic you’re exhausted. Thinking about the weekend you decide to pick up a book to read. You don’t usually have enough time in your busy work-week schedule for books, but it’s been a stressful week and you just want to relax and forget about the real world for an hour or two. After fighting with other vehicles over a coveted parking spot at the mall, you grab a coffee and head into the bookstore. Still thinking about work, you aimlessly browse through the fiction and start walking towards the exit when a book catches your eye: Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff at Work by Richard Carlson. “Wow, this book is just what I need!” you exclaim as you excitedly pick it up and begin flicking through the pages. “Maybe this book will help me not to stress out at work!”
We’ve all picked up a self-help book at one point. There are self-help books on everything from breaking free of self-defeating behaviours to spiritual awareness. My favourite happens to be how to deal with emotional vampires (who knew that your emotional well-being was at risk from narcissistic vamps?). And, interestingly enough, this business of self-help literature has been around since the mid 1800’s when Samuel Smiles wrote his book Self-Help in 1859. Today, Amazon sells 147,371 books on self-help and Chapters sells 12,086… and that is only two bookstores. In the U.S., a study completed by Marketdata Inc. estimated the total market value for 2005 for self-help material to be worth 9.59 billion with books taking in 693 million. They also estimated that the market for books would grow 8.3%/year. With all of those books on how to improve and discover the real you, where do you start??
I generally use a guideline that I found at About.com by Kristalyn Salters-Pedneault, PhD. Kristalyn encourages would be self-improvers to look at:
- Author – Professional with credentials or small town housewife with too much time who watches a ton of Dr. Phil and Oprah?
- Topic – Quality over Quantity! Books that cover a broad subject and promise to change every aspect of your lifestyle are ones that should stay on the shelf… and off of yours!
- Bibliography – Where did the author get his/her info? Did it come from a peer reviewed source (good!) or People! magazine (bad!)?
- Realistic If the author is claiming that you can cure all of your worries with only 15 minutes a day spent on the exercises they’ve just taught you in 20 chapters, then it is a good bet that the book is no good. Good self-help books will tell you that if you are consulting them, then you should also consult a professional in what you are seeking help for.
- Get a second opinion! – There are tons of sites out there that can tell you whether a book is garbage or amazing. Look at book reviews, academic journals, ask a professional or go to the library and ask your librarian! We deal with books all the time and will usually be able to point you in the right direction.