If I were to read a self-help book...

When my sister married an Anthony Robbins devotee, I got my first close-up view of how helpful self-help books can really be to people.

I was skeptical at first of the ambitious financial goals my brother-in-law set for himself (apparently the first step to making a lot of money is to imagine yourself doing so, an exercise I haven't dared to try given my chosen profession). But several years later, his business is booming, and he continues to glean useful ideas from his steady diet of motivational and advice books.

As today's lead story illustrates, opinions vary widely about what it means for our society that self-help books are a multimillion-dollar industry. Is it a sign of spiritual searching, or exploitation of people's hopes and fears?

That probably depends on the reader as much as on the book, but one thing is clear: Whether people are leafing through the latest Oprah Winfrey pick or borrowing a dog-eared paperback that transformed their neighbor's life, the hunger for self-improvement has always been there.

I'm still waiting to see if some other stage of life will propel me into the self-help aisle. Perhaps one day I'll read up on buying a house, or find myself in a relationship that needs a book to jump-start conversations stuck in the limbo of "I don't know quite how to bring that one up."

Meanwhile, if I want to browse, the shelves at my sister's house offer more than just financial tips. I might start with their favorite for nurturing creativity, "The Artist's Way," by Julia Cameron. So if you see me outside blowing bubbles, don't worry. I'll be on the verge of a great idea for my next column.

*E-mail teichers@csps.com

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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