I have a confession to make: I have never read more than one full chapter of a self-help book. Listen: I know they’re wildly popular. Self-Help is a many-billion dollar industry, and I’m sure many people are helped by the books they’ve read. Queer people are famous for helping ourselves, and we love to read! What could be better than doing both at once?
But when I try to read a self-help book, I get just about through the introduction before I remember: they’re long! They’re repetitive! And they’re often dry as toast! Is reading nonfiction case histories of women who love too much really what I want to do with my one wild and precious life?
Luckily, I have a hack for that. I was complaining to a friend once, and she laughed. “The best self-help books can help you just with their titles,” she said. “I never need to read any more than that.” She’s a genius! She TL:DR’d the industry!
And so, without endorsement of these books, or even admission to having read a single word, may I present: the top ten most useful self-help books that may help you without ever having to crack their spines!
10. Men Are from Mars, Women Are From Venus
This famous little gem (just barely) made the list because it teaches us what Autostraddle’s Straight People Watch so helpfully pointed out to us back in the day: The Straights are NOT okay. The guy who wrote this really took the idea of “irreconcilable differences” and flew with it, didn’t he?
9. Thriving As An Empath
When I think of “empaths,” I think of Deanna Troi on the USS Enterprise, using her Betazoid powers to inform the captain that the alien who is yelling at them “feels great anger.” The thing I learned from THIS title is to feel slightly wary of anyone I see reading it.
8. Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents
Not trying to stir the pot on this one, but it seems like this concept — that parents can, indeed, be emotionally immature — is helpful to many people I know. Parents! They’re messy! Just like us!
7. Good Vibes, Good Life
Seems good! Vague, but good! This book is the self-help equivalent of a morning at the beach. Waves are lapping at the shore, someone’s playing a ukelele, you just got handed a beverage of choice from a bright blue cooler…can’t argue with this one.
6. Do the Work!
Ok! I will!
It’s amazing how often this is the whole entire answer to a problem.
5. Stop Overthinking
Whoever wrote this one has clearly seen my Google search history late at night. It’ll start with something innocuous like “can dogs have bananas” and pretty soon we’ll be into “canine defibrillator — home use?” territory. Someone should really take away my phone after 11 p.m.! Since I’m an adult, the person who should do that is, well, me. But I would gladly download an app that pops up every thirty minutes when my screen is on after dark to yell STOP! OVER! THINKING! in a very authoritative voice. Definitely someone with a British accent. Gillian Anderson? Jodie Comer? Help me out here, app developers!
4. How to Succeed by Faking It
Because fuck imposter syndrome! You’re hot and smart and you work hard at the things you do! You’re a good friend and your art is worth making and you are enough! Until those things feel true, you can just pretend they do, and do the damn thing anyway.
P.S. There is a typo in this book’s subtitle, which is “Fake It Until You Make It, Look and Act Confidence.” I feel like the author REALLY lives this particular message!
3. Set Boundaries, Find Peace
I live fewer than ten miles away from most of my extended family. I should print this on a bumper sticker and slap it on my Honda.
I love boundaries. I’ve always loved boundaries. Years ago, before I came out, I walled myself off and called those walls boundaries — even close friends knew so very little about me. But with a lot of work, I dismantled the walls! Then I had to learn what healthy boundaries really looked like when I was letting people in, seeing the real me. It’s a process, always. Boundaries, generally: I’m their #1 fan!
2. You Mean I’m Not Lazy, Stupid or Crazy?!
This book was recommended to me by the psychiatrist who gave me my ADHD diagnosis. Before I met with him, I’d felt crazy, stupid, and lazy for approximately twenty-nine years, ever since I stopped being able to turn in finished homework assignment in the second grade. I’d been called lazy a few times over, too. But surprise! Turns out I’m just neurospicy! Congratulations to me!
1. You Are Not the Target
Fabulous advice, and advice I really wish I’d been able to metabolize in my early twenties. Coworker sighing loudly? You are not the target. Somebody acting irrationally angry? You are not the target. That old saying about how “everybody is fighting battles you don’t know about” is true, but no one ever says the next part, where those battles mean that a lot of people are going to act like assholes in your direction. Which sucks! And they shouldn’t do it! But whatever they’re going through? It’s probably not about you, and it’s probably not your job (or in your capacity) to fix it.
The P.S. for #4 is a gem.
This is also how I read self help books! Sometimes I’ll read the back cover too, if I’m feeling needy. The self help industry could just publish an annual magazine and call it a day.
This is brilliant.
The Deanna Troi reference had me cackling (I feel like she would have use for No.8 as well)
omg deanna should absolutely read #8 rofl
SO HERE FOR THIS
Wow-ee, wow, wow – the way “You Are Not the Target” hits the bullseye for me. Planning on saying that to myself approximately one million times a day from now on.
“The Body Keeps the Score” is a perfect addition to this list.
I promise I’ll read it one day. I know it’s like important or whatever. But will it tell me more than the title did? Doubtful.
oh this is GOOD, how did i forget about this one?
Approximately 10 minutes ago (before reading this article), I ordered this book at the recommendation of my mother, a psychologist. She gave it a glowing review. Hope I read it, but if not, at least the title is brilliant.
I own this one. I have not read it. I don’t plan to read it.
I listened to a great interview with the author (on the podcast OnBeing) and I feel like that, plus years of work with several trauma informed therapists, is close enough to having read the book.
Ooh this happened to me with “Wintering”. I did read the book, but it was *not as good or as deep as the OnBeing interview* that I had listened to before!!
That’s good to know! A friend recommended Wintering to me. But now that I know about the OnBeing interview, I’ll just listen to that.
I mean I AM a trauma informed therapist so I really should do the reading lol but at the end of the trauma informed day I want to read stories about magic.
This! This is so true.
i really got a lot out of looking at the cover of STOP WALKING ON EGGSHELLS
I love this!
I can think of 2 or 3 self-help books that I actually read and they actually did change my life – I read them in college, when I was just a little non-fiction reading machine. Two were about sex – the one about how to have an orgasm was particularly mind-blowing (heh heh). And The Dance of Intimacy helped me realize that oh yeah, being abused when I was younger (might have) had an impact on how I related to people and that (maybe) I should (maybe) consider therapy. (I was deep in denial then but it was a keep nudge that helped me eventually seek and find healing)
But in the last 30 ish years since college, I’ve also just skimmed them.
I’m currently getting a lot of help from the book Laziness Does Not Exist. I even referenced it in a family conversation about how my FIL thinks one of my 20-something niblings is lazy for not finding a job yet. I haven’t read it. But I have looked at the cover and I even listened to part of an interview with the author.
This really speaks to me Darcy, thank you!
And Cleo, I loved this, especially:
“I haven’t read it. But I have looked at the cover and I even listened to part of an interview with the author.” 💕
That is also very me!🤓
Thank you for this! I feel so guilty not finishing self-help books yet always buy more. My problem is that I get super excited about the book described on the back cover. Then the actual book is 90% memoir with vague practical advice. The most peaceful year of my life was the one I swore off self-help books and instead read poetry. Covid-isolation sent me back, but this post makes me want to go poetry-only again. Also, the best self-help book I ever read was Ask Baba Yaga. Since a child I’ve wanted a wise, stinking, potentially dangerous grandmother. Don’t we all?
Ask Baba Yaga is fantastic.
I love Ask Baba Yaga too!
This is great life advice! You should write a book about it..
Truly though, the odd time that I’ve made it all the way through a self-help book, even ones that were legitimately life-changing, I have felt annoyed by the fact that it could have been easily distilled down to a very helpful chapter or so, and was pretty clearly just padded out in order to sell a book.
I bought “Yes you are trans enough” so I could look at the title when I need to (and it’s always right there for me to read if I really-really need to!) and thats been very helpful.
brb incorporating neurospicy into every conversation i have
I once owned a second-hand copy of You Are Not the Target ! I bought it because of the rather cute earnest woman on the cover (the author, Laura Huxley. _I know_)
Fun fact! I couldn’t read past the first chapter either, no matter how often I tried. The title was, in fact, enough for me !
I would add ‘Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway’ as a good addition to this list. I did actually read it when I was young and had more time (it was laying around at my parents house) but I don’t recall anything crucial that isn’t captured by the title.
Other self help books with helpful titles that I own but haven’t read:
Ask For It: how women can use the power of negotiation to get what they really want
The Courage to Heal
Taking Control of TMJ
What Fresh Hell is This? Perimenopause, menopause, other indignities, and you
I bought What Fresh Hell is This fully intending to read it after it got a great review here on AS. I’m glad I own. I’m glad I bought it at my local feminist bookstore. I’m glad it exists in the world. I’m glad I read the couple chapters that I read. I love looking at it’s cover with angry flames.
But the truth is that I don’t really read nonfiction and apparently I’d rather read fluffy romances about lesbian kitten rescuers or trans witches or menopausal bi werewolves or what-have-you than finish this book.
What Fresh Hell is This really does have a great cover. I, too, bought it after a review on this site, but…I’ve been too afraid to read it!
If I could just have Gillian Anderson ring me up daily and read the title of any of these books, I’d be running on water,flying high on life.
what a dream.