Help me, Help you: The business of self-help literature


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!”

Sound familiar?

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:

  1. Author – Professional with credentials or small town housewife with too much time who watches a ton of Dr. Phil and Oprah?
  2. 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!
  3. Bibliography – Where did the author get his/her info?  Did it come from a peer reviewed source (good!) or People! magazine (bad!)?
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

 

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