Self-Help Books You Can Read Without Embarrassment


Janet Jackson just released True You: A Journey to Finding and Loving Yourself, and although we wouldn’t necessarily be embarrassed to read this on our way to work (hey, the woman has been through some tough times), we think that there are some other options also worth considering. The self-help genre can be a difficult one to defend, though, so we’re offering an assortment of edifying books that probably will elicit curiosity or interest from passersby, rather than self-satisfied notes of disapproval as you page through a worn copy of Sexy Forever.

Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer

As Foer writes in the New York Times, “If something is going to be made memorable, it has to be dwelled upon, repeated.” Five years ago, he won the “speed cards” event in the US Memory Championship by memorizing a full deck of cards in under two minutes. Now, Foer explains how to recall names, events, and other important information through age-old memory tricks.

A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy by William B. Irvine

Irvine asks, “Of the things in life you might pursue, which is the thing you believe to be most valuable?” Once you have this thing in mind, he writes that we must develop a clear strategy to attain it, which means that we must develop a “philosophy of life” by using the Stoics as our guide. Stoicism began in the third century BC, and taught the value of self-control and propositional logic as guides to understanding the world and our relationship with nature. It’s worth a shot, right?

Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath

Apparently we have two dueling systems lodged in our muddled brains — a rational one and an emotional one, and that only by aligning them will we achieve real change. Otherwise, we will continue to struggle to overcome obstacles (e.g., a poor diet, our lack of exercise, a dead-end job, an awful coworker). The brothers Heath previously wrote the manifesto, Made To Stick, so they know a thing or two about following through with your intentions.

The Jungle Effect by Daphne Miller

The subtitle is: “A Doctor Discovers the Healthiest Diets from Around the World — Why They Work and How to Bring Them Home.” Dr. Miller, a family practice physician unsurprisingly based in San Francisco, proposes we pursue healthy, indigenous diets from global “cold spots” which will help us prevent disease and generally live healthier lives.

Turning the Mind into an Ally by Sakyong Mipham

Mipham informs us that “the most fundamental secret I know is rooted in something we already possess — basic goodness.” As the child of exiled Tibetan Buddhists, Mipham grew up in Colorado and learned how to merge Western and Eastern pursuits through meditation, contemplation, and sane reasoning.

The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz

A friend wrote, “I saw a woman reading it on the subway yesterday and I was about to comment when some hipster dude goes up to her and says, ‘That’s a great book. I have The Four Agreements tattooed on my forearm.'” Ruiz expands on common sense principles such as “don’t take anything personally” and “don’t make assumptions” in order to teach us how to live more full lives.

The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss

This guy is ridiculous. He advocates using a “virtual assistant” in order to manage those nagging life tasks (preferably one from Bangalore, to keep the costs down). And yet, this book has been on the New York Times Bestseller List for 81 weeks. 81 weeks! For this reason alone, readers should not be ashamed to break its spine on the subway. On Ferriss’s website, a derivatives trader at UBS is quoted as stating: “Tim is Indiana Jones for the digital age. I’ve already used his advice to go spearfishing on remote islands and ski the best hidden slopes of Argentina. Simply put, do what he says and you can live like a millionaire.” [Emphasis ours.]

Ferriss is a 32-year-old Princeton alumnus and polyglot who studied under John McPhee and Kenzaburo Oe. He is also a national Chinese kickboxing champion, a world-record-breaking tango dancer, an Aspen Institute fellow, and was voted Wired‘s “Greatest Self-Promoter of 2008” by legions of fans. Regardless of how much he resembles everything we hate about Team America, Ferriss recognizes that we are overworked and need to reorganize our lives, which is a start.

The Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo

A poor Andalusian shepherd named Santiago travels to distant lands to discover treasure after dreaming of it one night, and encounters love, loss, and an alchemist’s tricks along the way. Yes, it’s a heavy-handed allegorical novel, but it is also one of the best-selling books in history. Isn’t it time to find out why? As the old king says to the shepherd, “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”

The Ethical Slut by Dossie Easton and Catherine A. Liszt

Billed as “A Practical Guide to Polyamory, Open Relationships & Other Adventures,” this book teaches us how to live in non-monogamous relationships without lying to our partners. Stop feeling guilty about your desires and start having incredibly long, drawn out “processing sessions” with your primary partner as you navigate this difficult terrain. Good luck, intrepid explorers!

How to Survive and Prosper as an Artist: Selling Yourself Without Selling Your Soul by Caroll Michels

Learn how to successfully market yourself as an artist, performer, or (shudder) “creative,” through this step-by-step guide. Michels writes in terse, instructive sentences, and never lets us off the hook: “If you want to avoid fulfilling your potential as an artist, there are many ways of going about it. Excuses are easy to find [and] the fear list can go on and on.”