As I’ve mentioned, I’m writing a newspaper article about what I’m calling, for now, “chatty” self help books — those “girlfriend’s guide to…” type things that make the ladies swoon. Here, they seem to say, is the answer to all your troubles! Do this, like I did, and your life will be forever changed! You’ll lose 10 pounds; find your mate; become CEO; never need to organize again….

And on, and on.

It’s not that I don’t think some self help books work, but I think it’s more difficult now than ever to find the gems among the crap because of a little idea called “get rich quick.” Everyone’s jumping into the guru game.

That’s why Beth Lisick’s Helping Me Help Myself: One Skeptic, Ten Self-Help Gurus, and a Year on the Brink of the Comfort Zone (to be published on January 2, 2008) was the perfect book for me to read on my trip from Philadelphia to Phoenix. Lisick, author of Everybody into the Pool : True Tales has the same guards-up approach to self helping but figured she could use some help herself. She she jumped into the self help pool for a year and wrote about what she saw.

I like this kind of sharp, witty writing, this “I’m not going to censor myself, and if you don’t like it, tough.” For example: “Here I am walkin down the self-help aisle on purpose for the first time in my life. It makes my insides feel bad, and I don’t think it’s just my digestive system kicking back into gear. The problem is that instead of thinking that all those smiling faces and soothing colors and jacked-uptitles are trying to help me, it makes me feel like a big loser. Weak and cliched. Like I should be drinking a glass of chardonnay while sitting on a swiveling barstool at the island in my friend’s kitchen saying, ‘I don’t know, Joan. It’s all just too much sometimes. I need some help, but i don’t know how to ask for it.'”


Through Lisick, I experienced the empowering forces of Jack “Chicken Soup for the Soul” Canfield, the machismo and ridiculousness of John Gray’s Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus. And, my personal favorite, I tagged along as Lisick went on a Richard Simmons; “Cruise to Lose” (confession time: I have a Simmons cookbook. Not that I’ve used it — but for show because it’s silly). But what I learned most about was one woman trying to right some of the uneven keels of her life, and she was honest and funny in writing about it. This was also the perfect plane book. The writing was fast and light, but I could put the book down to zonk out or play with the inflight TV system (not the movies because they charge for those now) without feeling like I’d lost my place. I finished most of it in one day, and was sad to see it end.

My one quibble is that, for a book supposed to be about one self help or guru a month for a year, Lisick only worked with 10. I know life drops in and messes things up, but it seems like 12 would have still been enough to eek out. I’ll cut her some slack, though, since for a lot of these self help courses, she went to conferences or ponied up money for the advice.

Lisick also cribs something from, of all movies, Repo Man (with proper credit) about how weird coincidences aren’t all that random — just the world’s way of pointing something out to you. In Repo Man, that anology is told like this: “A lot of people don’t realize what’s really going on. They view life as a bunch of unconnected incidents and things. They don’t realize that there’s this, like, lattice of coincidence that lays on top of everything. Give you a example, show you what I mean: Suppose you’re thinkin’ about a plate o’ shrimp. Suddenly someone’ll say, like “plate,” or “shrimp,” or “plate o’ shrimp” out of the blue, no explanation. No point looking for one, either. It’s all part of a cosmic unconsciousness.”

So Lisick looks for those plates o’ shrimp throughout the year in which she worked on this book (and her life). The last chapter is even illustrated with a picture of one. It makes sense. For example: I started this book a week project soon after I got dumped. Again. So instead of licking my wounds, I went proactive. I accepted invitations to every party and event, talked to strangers and said yes to everyone who asked me out. I soon had a full dance card, and was going out with guys I thought before would have been too old, too young, too short or too tall for me. It’s been a blast, and eye opening. After two-ish months of this, the candidates are dwindling and I’m struggling with whether or not to really let myself go and fall for someone or whether to keep on my “date ’em all” plan.

My flight to Arizona involved a connection. As I drug myself and my bags through the Atlanta airport to the flight that would take me to the desert, my phone buzzed. It was a text message from said gentlemen welcoming me to Atlanta. Now how sweet is that? So I replied and told him that he was just that — a sweetheart. It’s not a phrase a usually use, but, for some reason, it fit. I caught the connecting flight, and, at some point (I can’t for the life of me find the page), Lisick writes that her hubby is a “sweetheart.”

Plate o’ shrimp.


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Jen Miller

Jen Miller

Jen A. Miller is a an author and freelance writer. Her memoir, Running a Love Story, was a Philadelphia Inquirer best book of the year. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, SELF, Buzzfeed and the Guardian, among others.

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