Shelving Self-Help

I was half-napping in the family room today, beaten semi-comatose by the April rain, when a row of books caught my eye. A dozen or so, lined up neatly on the highest shelf of the bookcase. Self-help books. I studied them briefly from my position on the couch until seized, suddenly, by the urge to dump them.

Now, don’t get me wrong. These books are well-written, thought-provoking and were, at a certain stage in my life, helpful, at least insofar as shaping my philosophies, if not in solving any of the immediate issues I faced at the time. Issues like: What is wrong with me? Why haven’t I yet achieved total world domination, or at least stopped feeding my family out of boxes every night of the week? Why do I feel so lost? I tried to remember how old I was when I read those books. My late twenties? Early thirties?

“Live your questions now,” Rainer-Marie Rilke wrote, in a letter to an earnest young student, “and perhaps even without knowing it, you will live along some distant day into your answers.” I always found that idea intellectually appealing, but of course, I didn’t get it. You can’t get it until you have, well, lived through it. That’s the recompense for getting older: you earn the odd bit of wisdom. You also realize that you don’t know anything. By extrapolation, that means no one else knows much either. I find that realization rather comforting.

I take the books down from the shelf, stack them on the coffee table. Looking at pile, I remember the ambivalence that, by and large, I felt after reading them (or, more often, after abandoning them mid-way through). The exercises, “challenges” and questionnaires left me feeling wanting, empty. Even now, looking at the stack, I feel vaguely – what? Inadequate.

Now understand a few things about me: I have two law degrees. A black-belt. A law practice. A lovely home, a treasure of a husband, two beautiful children, a loving extended family including step-kids and all their attachments. I have a long history of modest athletic achievement. (Do not challenge me to a pull-up contest. I will eat you for breakfast). I juggle a lot and I do it with grace (mostly). I am a lot of things.

Inadequate isn’t one of them.

I carefully bag up the books. I have a niece in her mid-twenties who would very much appreciate them, I am sure. She is exploring life and reads much of this ilk, as she should. It is her time. And, might I add, she should read them without shame. No one should feel like a flake just for hanging around the self-help section. Heck, we should probably stand around and applaud her for trying so darn hard.

Sliding Sidebar


Follow this blog

Get every new post delivered right to your inbox.

Email address