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Lifestyle

February 17, 2013

Can books really help us help ourselves, or are we addicted?

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“Self-help is a very reliable moneymaking category and a huge market,” said Ron Shoop, Random House’s district sales manager for Northern California. “Not everybody reads fiction, but everyone is concerned with overcoming their problems and limitations.”

Authors of self-help books include licensed medical professionals and clergy who espouse 21st-century versions of spirituality, as well as self-actualization masterminds and inspired gurus promising to raise our consciousness to other planes. But essentially anyone with advice to give can get into the act.

One recent self-help title that went to the top of the charts is “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” by former Wall Street lawyer Susan Cain (”I always wanted to be a psychologist,” she said).

“Quiet” explores the dynamics between introversion and extroversion. It was a runaway best seller that made “best books of 2012” lists around the country. Cain’s presentation on the TED Talks video site has been viewed more than 3.5 million times.

“My book has real takeaways that people can use,” Cain said. “It’s a gigantic permission slip that entitles introverted people to be who they are for the first time in their lives. Every day I get emails from them telling me the book has changed their (approaches to) their jobs, leisure time and social (interactions).”

As one of the nonfiction-reviews editors for Publishers Weekly magazine, Samuel Slaton looks at hundreds of self-help titles each month. He said the economic downturn has been a boon for self-help.

“There are a lot of books geared toward how to overcome daily anxiety,” he said. “The recession has created a market for them. A lot of them offer a combination of inspirational anecdotes and practical things people can do.”

Slaton mentioned one upcoming title with that template, “The End of Worry” by self-help veterans Will van der Hart, an Anglican vicar, and psychiatrist Rob Waller.

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