Self-help books get the 'tough love' treatment
Once known for gentle cheerleading and encouragement, the genre now berates readers with 'you're an idiot' messages.
Of all the aisles in the typical American bookstore, none has expanded faster than the one devoted to self-help. But customers looking for some sage words of relationship advice or a little "you can do it!" encouragement to lose weight may be in for a shock. The motivational gurus of the Simon Cowell (of "American Idol" fame) generation are here with blunt appraisals of our personal shortcomings.Skip to next paragraph
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Pointed and politically incorrect titles like "He's Just Not That Into You" and "Skinny Bitch" are burning up bestseller lists and inspiring copycats. The latter, written by former model Kim Barnouin and modeling agent Rory Freedman, is now No. 1 in paperback advice books on The New York Times bestseller list. A cookbook sequel came out in December.
Experts say their popularity reflects a demand from young, mainly female readers for in-your-face entertainment mixed with advice. While some say this new writing style may work where traditional prose or experts have failed, others question whether this trend degrades the reader and reflects poorly on our self-centered society.
"There's this new breed of self-help book," says Terrence Real, a bestselling self-help speaker and author of "The New Rules of Marriage." "They have a very black-and-white message that appeals to some people. Whatever the overt message is, the underlying message is, 'You're an idiot.' "
The new cookbook by Ms. Barnouin and Ms. Freedman promotes a vegan diet. A sassy illustration of an angular woman in a chic cocktail dress on the cover and advice such as "Stop being a moron and start getting skinny" hint at the vulgarity-laden blunt talk found inside.
Their first book didn't get much traction, selling only 10,000 copies when it debuted in 2005. But in May 2007, when the lithe Victoria Beckham was photographed holding up a copy in a Los Angeles store (despite the fact that she didn't buy it and says "I've never read a book in my life"), sales soared.
This nontraditional approach and vernacular voice also permeate "He's Just Not That Into You: The No-Excuses Truth to Understanding Guys." While relationship books of the past featured hints on how to attract "the man of your dreams," this book – which sold 30,000 copies in the first two weeks after its release in 2004 – tells women that if a guy doesn't call or ask them out right away, he's not interested, and they should give up.
The book's title – from a line of dialogue in a "Sex and the City" episode – has become such a catchphrase that it's being turned into a major film starring Ben Affleck and Jennifer Aniston. Meanwhile, the success of Freedman and Barnouin's books have prompted them to begin work on another, this one for pregnant women.
The new, no-holds-barred world of self-help also includes "Why You're Still Single: Things Your Friends Would Tell You If You Promised Not to Get Mad" (May 2006) and "You're Fat! Now Lose It!" (September 2007).