Wednesday, December 08, 2004


I've been reading self-help books lately because Shanghai (the woman I'm staying with until my own apartment is ready) has quite a few of them. Also, she seems to be of the very firm opinion that I could use a little help.

Thinking back over my own beloved collection of
books, now sitting in boxes in my mother's garage in Missouri, I can't recall any self-help books in it. Sure, there's a diet book or two, stuff about finding a new job, embarking on a new career, saving bet...but real self-help? Of the self-esteem variety? Nope.

Since I like to think about why I do and don't read or
buy certain books, I grasped onto this new wrinkle in my bookloving psyche with great enthusiasm. Here's the truth: I do read a self-help book every now and then. I either check it out from the library or read it in the bookstore. When I do the latter, I'm tucked away at a back couch or table so no one can see what I'm looking at. Then: (this is very bad, I know) I leave the book where it is for the store staff to find and reshelve.

The last self-help book I looked at on my own was YOUR OWN WORST ENEMY: BREAKING THE HABIT OF ADULT UNDERACHIEVEMENT by Ken Christian. I looked at the book in one of those unfortunate bookstores where there's no place to park
your butt. I was reading along & I heard footsteps come up behind me, so I closed the book and hastily returned it to its proper place. Taking one seemingly-casual step over to the right, I found myself in the cookbook section, where I began to scrutinize the casserole recipe books.

So, why the reluctance to
buy a self-help book, much less handle it as little as possible?

When I'm trying to figure out the inner workings of my mind, sometimes a song will float through it. This is often the key. As I was thinking about it, strains of Billie Holliday filled my head. She was singing "Nobody's
Business". "...nobody's business/nobody's business/nobody's business if I do..."

Okay. So that means that I don't want anyone to know what? That I might be concerned with a character flaw that I'm hoping to correct? That I have the character flaw in the first place? Am I worried that if I take a book up to the counter to pay for it, the clerk will
arch an eyebrow and think: "Yeah, she looks like she NEEDS to read this book!"

You gotta admit: Those self-help titles are really kind of revealing!
Stuff like: HOW TO (then in really BIG letters) TAKE CARE OF THIS PROBLEM!!!! It's the printed equivalent of a megaphone, as far as I'm concerned. Especially when you get them home, read them, and put them on the bookshelf. Then people can come over, arch an eyebrow and go, "hmm..."

If I seem squeamish about regular self-help
books, imagine how I am about self-help sex books. I bought one, once. This was in 1981, when I began dating Manfred, Sr. I wanted to bring myself up to speed on the subject. After all, Manfred, Sr. was four and a half years older, and a man of the world. The title of the book was THE SENSUOUS WOMAN by "J". I smuggled it home and read it cover to cover. Then, somehow, I lost it. I'm sure that I hid it from possible prying eyes so well that I hid it completely and forever from myself. A few years later when HOW TO MAKE LOVE TO A MAN came out, I knew I could never buy it because of that title. I was up to my usual tricks, peeking and reading furtively in the bookstore. Not a bad book, but it does cover a lot of the same material as THE SENSUOUS WOMAN.

I'll read my friend's self-help
books, then that'll be my quota for the next few years. I'll read the ones she prescribed, and sneak looks at the sex ones, making sure that when I put them back on the shelf, they're lined up exactly with their shelf mates. In fact, if I really want to preserve my privacy, I could pull out another book slightly over the edge, to make it look like I was really reading about something else.

There it goes again, the raspy refrain: "nobody's
business/nobody's business/nobody's business if I do..." Sing it, Billie.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Say, do you remember the title of that self-help book for underachieving adults you were reading? I have friends I'd like to recommend it to. Thanks for posting it in your blog if you can.