June 30, 2013

6 Self-Help Books for People Who Hate Self-Help. ~ Kimberly Lo

Despite being a yoga instructor and surrounded by people who are fans of self-help books, written self-help books themselves and/or are planning to write one at some point, I confess that I have never been a fan of the traditional self-help book.

Don’t get me wrong. Unlike some, I don’t dismiss the industry as a bunch of fluff.

I firmly believe that some self-help books genuinely help people, and that is always a good thing in my book. In times when I need it, I turn to my own list of self-help books even though none of these traditionally fall under the category of self-help.

Without further ado, here is my personal list of books I reach to when I am feeling low and/or in need of inspiration:

1. The Encyclopedia Brown series by Donald J. Sobol

Before anyone had ever thought of The X-Files, Encyclopedia and his sidekick, Sally Kimball, were the Mulder and Sculley of the 12 and under set.

Granted, they didn’t investigate a lot of paranormal activities, but they were a great example of brains and brawn with the gender roles reversed. Encyclopedia was an inspiration for kids who were not and never going to be the jocks or the prom queen.

In fact, you get the idea that Encyclopedia was the sort of kid who would be bullied by them. Also, how cool was it that Sally was his bodyguard and not the other way around? (Sally was by no means the only strong girl character in the series. Who could forget Lindy Lou Duckworth who played football with the boys sans shoulder pads and was the town’s junior arm wrestling champion to boot?)

Plus, Encyclopedia and Sally were smart enough never to let romance get in the way of their friendship. If only we were all that wise.

2. How to be a Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson

Don’t let the tongue-in-cheek title deter you. This baking book by British TV chef Nigella Lawson is the ultimate in comfort baking. Lawson wrote this tome while her then-husband, journalist John Diamond, was battling Stage 4 cancer. (He died shortly after the book’s publication.) Lawson does not share this in the book, but the need to celebrate the good in life be it birthdays, anniversaries, etc.  come through on every page.

Many of these recipes call for ample amounts of butter, cream, and eggs and are hardly light eating, but that is the point. This isn’t about the everyday. Rather, this is about taking the time out every now and then to enjoy life.

You don’t even need a reason to celebrate. Just do it!

3. The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood

Atwood is best known for The Handmaid’s Tale, but I consider this her masterpiece so far. If you ever thought that women couldn’t be  as ruthless as men, then allow me to introduce you to Zenia the antagonist of Margaret Atwood’s above-mentioned novel.

This is an unusual novel in that it has three main characters all of whom are middle-aged women, and all of whom have been burnt by Zenia. As to why she does these things, one of the main characters, Toni, sums it up best: “Don’t fret about motives [when it comes to Zenia]. Attila the Hun didn’t have motives. He just had appetites.”

Zenia is every woman’s worst nightmare: beautiful, brainy, and remorseless. She enters each of the women’s life’s at various times in their lives betraying their friendship, in one case even killing their pets and making off with their men as if they were trophies.

Any woman who has ever been left for another woman will empathize with the characters.

Ultimately, though, this novel isn’t so much about man-stealing or jealousy as it is about the power of true friendship. I first read this novel when I was 15 and have read it at least once a year since then.

Last year, I was delighted when Atwood wrote a sort of follow-up to the novel in the guise of a short story  which told the reader what the characters had been up to since the early 1990s.

4 . & 5. Knitting Without Tears by Elizabeth Zimmerman & Stitch’ n Bitch: The Knitter’s Handbook by Debbie Stoller

I often tell people that the reason I knit so much is because it is a lot cheaper than therapy—I am not joking. I decided to take up knitting during a very stressful period in my life and have been hooked every since. Creating something for myself, others, or just for the sake of creating has brought me tremendous satisfaction.

There are a ton of knitting books out there, but I consider these two the Bible. Elizabeth Zimmerman, or EZ to her fans, is legend in the knitting community. She died some years ago, but her influence is still strong. What I love most about this book is that she presents her instructions in plain English and there is a sense of humor and fun that it is often lacking in a lot of these books.

For many reasons I consider Debbie Stoller her heir-apparent. Arguably, Stoller has made knitting seem fun and cool to a new generation of young women and men and started one of the first Stitch ‘n’ Bitch communities in NYC.

In addition to being a passionate knitter and having her own line of yarn, Stoller is also the founder and editor-in-chief of Bust magazine.

This ain’t your grandma’s knitting.

If you aren’t convinced that knitting can be hip, then pick up this one of the many other books that Stoller has authored on knitting.

6. The Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Most of us who are a certain age are familiar with the TV series. While I loved it as a kid, the books are so different and in my opinion at least, better. Sure, these are not without controversy; many have criticized the books for their negative portrayal of  Native Americans, but these offer a fascinating look of what pioneer life was like.

Also, one of the things I remember as a kid is how an African-American doctor saved the Ingalls family after they came down with a bout of malaria. I remember Laura noting that he was “the first black man she ever met and she would have been afraid had she not liked Dr. Tan so much.” Dr. Tan is given the full respect and authority that he deserves from the family.

Also, jumping ahead to a later book in the series, how can anyone not love Laura’s response to Almanzo’s wedding proposal when he asks if her hand would like an engagement ring and she replies that it depends on the ring?

In closing, these are the books I turn to time and again whenever I feel that life has thrown me a curveball. There are others I turn to as well, but the ones above are my favorites.

Happy reading and may these inspire you as much as they have me.






Like elephant culture on Facebook.

Ed: Bryonie Wise


{Photo: via Pinterest}


Read 3 Comments and Reply

Read 3 comments and reply

Top Contributors Latest

Kimberly Lo  |  Contribution: 55,675