Advice books have ancient origins. The Bible, which has been a bestseller for so long no one even keeps track of the numbers anymore, was full of plenty of good advice like love your neighbor as yourself , some advice that may be considered marginal and inevitably some just plain bad advice. (Googling "bad advice from the Bible" will get you almost three million entries. At the top of the list is Satan's advice to Eve about eating the apple from that tree.)
Then there is that other classic by Sun Tzu, basically a guidebook to thinking like a fighter, The Art of War, Available on Kindle for $0.99. Of course we've encountered Benjamin Franklin somewhere along the way, how else would we know that honesty is the best policy or that three people can keep a secret if two of them are dead?
Most of the help and advice I got as a teenager came from magazine articles, usually of a dubious nature, like Helen Gurley Brown's Cosmopolitan, which I distinctly remember gave out some arguably crazy advice about trying to manipulate male imaginations in visual ways that still scare me even to think about.
A very skinny little blue book called The Sensous Woman was a publishing phenomenon in the 1970s but not because of anything I did. I read the same copy as everybody who lived on my dorm floor of the Lincoln Avenue Residence Hall in Urbana.
I didn't become a cross the line into book buying addiction until doctors began writing diet books wiht riveting examples of people just like me who were fighting a food addiction.
The Scarsdale Diet by Dr. Herman Tarnower is still hailed as miraculous. The golden rule of Scarsdale is to stay away from sugar and eat as many raw vegetables as you can possibly manage. Tarnower was the first physician who was very stern and convincing about the fact that you have to change your way of eating, which was a new idea in the 70s.The other monumental doctor in the world of diet books was Atkins. I've purchased an Atkins diet book at least a dozen times. I don't even have to read it anymore; I know it by heart now.
For the first two weeks, you eat from a limited list of food, mostly raw vegetables and a few other staples. You do a total withdrawl from sugar—no bread, no fruit, no yogurt—but on the upside you can eat as much protein and fat as you want. And it is true that if you stick to it out through the induction phase you will lose weight. By the time you hit the middle ages most folks have learned the only way to survive is on a low-carb diet.
The golden age of pop psychology and diet books eventually gave way though. (Readers might be able to buy Atkins a dozen times, but for Suzanne Somers once was enough.) The age of addiction memoirs had begun. The genre may have reached its zenith when James Frey made St. Joseph, Michigan famous by writing A Million Little Pieces, a non-fiction story of redemption and recovery with a number of gruesome dental surgeries thrown in for dramatic effect. Frey had the good fortune to be interviewed by Oprah Winfrey and his book was soon a hit, but he had the bad fortune to be exposed as a liar who imagined the hardships he wrote about in the book. He had to confess on Oprah too.
But there were better memoirs to come. Drinking: A Love Story by Caroline Knapp was a bestseller about the author's struggle with alcohol and other behavioral problems. Knapp had also been a committed anorexic for many years. She died sadly when she was in her mid-40s, having been addicted most of her life.
At the opposite end of the addiction loop is Augustyn Burroughs, whose harrowing account of his bizarre childhood Running with Scissors led quite naturally into a New York hip version of polydrug abuse in the advertising business in New York. then to a third book, Dry, in which he quits drinking unsuccessfully at first.
Burroughs' current bestseller is This is How: Proven Aid in Overcoming Shyness, Molestation, Fatness, Spinsterhood, Grief, Disease, Lushery, Decrepitude and More For Young and Old Alike. Not only did I read this book in one night, I have since recommended or given it as a present to numerous friends and relatives. This is How puts an end to the need for another addiction book. Burroughs has been through every conceivable toxic situation. His ultimate advice is always the same: grow up, quit eating junk food, get rid of bad influencers and try being honest with yourself. I hope this is the cure for decrepitude, my only real fear these days.
Just to make sure I wasn't missing anything I recently looked up the best selling advice and how-to books. I recognized very few titles on the list. (And I don't think you can count Fifty Shades of Grey as a self-help book, although it definitely is about addiction.) There was a prayer book, seven cookbooks, one weight loss book, several books about journeys (a couple of them spiritual), two cat psychology comedy books, one marriage manual and the everlasting What to Expect When You're Expecting. You only have to read a book about pregnancy once---it is an unforgettable experience---but everyone reads this one.
There are only two popular self-help books right now and neither one is about addiction: Timothy Ferriss' The 4-Hour Workweek and Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. Ferriss' book I can never read because its title makes a mockery of my life. Kahneman's book has been on my wish list for while because I get perverse satisfaction out of thinking about thinking.
I have never read a book by Deepak Chopra even though he has written 55 books that have been translated into every language imaginable. I've avoided his books for the good reason that I have witnessed his fans become obsessed with him and I was afraid that could happen to me.
I am easily addicted to books.