Why so many self-help books?

The reason there are so many self-help books is not just that so many people are sad and searching, it’s because there are so many kinds of selves. 

You could argue that there’s nothing new in this book or that book, that it’s all been said before.  But this confuses an abstract idea’s having been expressed with the many ways of saying it.  Sometimes a particular way of saying it, or of presenting the ideas, or some example, just hit home, and you get it.  But your best friend might not get it in that same way.   At a different moment in your life, even you might not get it that way.

It’s like why there are so many musical recordings.  At some level, it’s all the same, all been done before.  But sometimes a particular performance just hits you, and maybe it doesn’t hit your best friend at all, and it only hit you because you were tuned to it at that moment in your life.  Playing a tune in your way, or writing a book, essay, or even a blog entry your way, maybe will hit somebody that was never hit before, even if they’ve heard the tune or the abstract concept.  And it will stick with them and maybe make a little difference in their life.

It all has to do with the great variety of selves out there, each of which changes with the years and “the seasons of emotion”.



  1. According to Paul Reitter and Chad Wellmon

    As the American critic Lionel Trilling correctly understood, the German ideal of Bildung entailed “strict sanctions and required submission.” It signified fashioning, forming, and cultivating but also being fashioned, formed, and cultivated. Writing in the 1970s, Trilling had come to think that what stood in the way of Bildung in America was not only a native attachment to autonomy but also an unwillingness to commit to just one self and its development. Americans, he claimed, wanted to have multiple selves and the attendant feelings of possibility.


  2. According to Brad Leithauser

    Of course, it’s a highly conjectural, iffy business—trying to read through someone else’s eyes. Or even, I’d add, through one’s own. Given enough years between visits, rereading a book can feel startlingly alien. Recently, I opened a collection by a contemporary poet who had meant much to me in college. Here was a stanza beside which I’d written in the margin, in a penmanship larger and somehow more hopeful-looking than my present hand, “Brilliant!” I stared and stared at the passage, seeking to reawaken a distant excitement: What did he see in it? But I couldn’t. The moment would have been less unnerving, I suppose, if I’d scrutinized the passage and determined, with some comforting recourse to the superior discernment of age, that it was, in fact, clumsy or orotund or emptily romantic. But it seemed merely bland. I longed to get back into the head of that fervent undergraduate, to read sympathetically through his eyes. I was naturally quite interested in him, and approached him with goodwill, but for all his fervency he remained stubbornly aloof. In the end, he was a stranger.


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