Books, Shame, and Getting Over It

In Season 5 of Sex and the City, Carrie learns her columns will be made into a book. Before doing a photo shoot for the cover, she and the gals head to a Barnes & Noble for various reasons.

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Charlotte is looking for a book to help her move past Trey and their divorce. Carrie narrates the following:

There is was. The Self Hell aisle. As Charlotte looked at the titles – The Woman’s Comfort Book, The Path to Love, Excuse Me: Your Life is Waiting, Please Understand Me II – she couldn’t bear the thought that she belonged there. <insert horror movie sounding music>

A woman is sitting on the floor crying as she reads one of those books. She tells Charlotte, in a friendly, open, honest, and raw way that the book Charlotte is holding – Starting Over, Yet Again – “really helped” her. Charlotte looks frazzled and, frankly, somewhat disgusted. She puts the book back and then starts lithely saying, “Travel? Travel?” as though that was where she was headed all along. The woman kind of gives her a “WTF, lady?” look.

When I first saw this episode at the impressionable age of 19 and a half, I internalized Charlotte’s reaction. Self Help books = bad. Never buy them in the store. People will think you’re sad and pathetic and will walk away from you. Remember my post about Legs? Serious, Sex & the City is TOXIC, folks, especially for an impressionable college sophomore who, at the age of 33, is still battling some of these demons she internalized when first watching the show. Anyway…

Later, while still in the bookstore, Miranda asks Charlotte where Starting Over Yet Again is and Charlotte hurriedly hushes her. More scorn; more derision. Then, as they’re leaving the store, Miranda picks up a non-fiction “help guide” and shows it to Carrie and Samantha while laughing, “Yeah. Like I need his advice.

The next scene Carrie narrates again while Charlotte is on her computer:

Who needs the self-help aisle when you can self-help yourself to Amazon.com and get exactly what you need, overnight express and shame free. 

There it is again. SHAME. What is it that is so shameful about reading advice, tips, research, etc. from experienced experts if it’s going to help you be a better person? I suppose it’s supposed to be a bit of a positive note that Charlotte even bothers to follow through with ordering the book, but this is after she tells her best friends “It wasn’t for me.” So, she’s hiding it.

Even later, Charlotte gets an email – the Based on your recent purchases… email. After listing off another series of titles, Carrie narrates that Charlotte refused to see herself as one of those types of women. There’s another quick moment that could maybe be seen as redemption when the book “fell three stories and landed at the feet of a woman considering a divorce. She considered it a sign from God.” But that’s a random woman with no lines walking on the street; it wasn’t Charlotte, a main character who I adored.

When I joined Beachbody, there was (and is) a significant push towards reading “Personal Development” books. For the longest time, I refused. Because every time someone shared or suggested one, this episode of Sex and the City played on loop in my head. Would reading those books make me “one of those types of women” — you know, the kind that Charlotte turned up her nose at and then lied to her friends so that she wouldn’t be one – at least in their eyes – either. I ain’t kidding when I talk about the baggage and issues I’ve developed thanks to TV.

Anyway. After months and months and months of resistance, I finally agreed to “read” You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life. And by “read,” I mean I used my monthly audible credit for it. I listened to it while I was working out.

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See? Just like Charlotte. If it’s playing in your ears, no one will ever have to see the cover…

I ended up actually liking it and trying a few more. I discovered one I really loved — Big Magic by Erin Gilbert (author of Eat, Pray, Love):

I liked it a lot, but it’s been so long since I read it, I don’t really remember it enough to give a full review. But since I finally got over my Charlotte York-induced neuroses about personal development books, I have another one to discuss!

I’ve mentioned and hinted about this book in recent posts, but I haven’t taken the time to do an honest review of it. Mostly, this is because I’m not quite sure how to explain the absolute awesomeness of the book without just word vomiting all over you.

I’d read The Happiness Project, also by Rubin, a few years ago when it was the hottest thing in the blogosphere. And while I liked it, it didn’t grab me nearly as intensely as Better Than Before did. 

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The book focuses on how to build habits based on your personality style. Are you a moderator or an abstainer? Are you an Early Bird or a Night Owl? Once you know which of these applies to you – and which of the Four Tendencies you’re most like (which she has another book coming out about this fall) – you can make a strategy for developing good habits or getting rid of bad ones.

For me, this book was incredibly useful. I’m still employing a lot of the tactics as I work on my personal routine, removing distractions, and improving my habits at home and at work.

So, despite years of bullying myself and an entire genre of books, I’ve finally started to accept that maybe, just maybe, non-fiction, well-researched, first-hand-accounts written down in thoughtful, insightful ways (aka, “self help,” aka, “personal development”) isn’t such a sad or scary or shameful thing after all…

How do you feel about “PD”? What are some of the best books you’ve read that fit in this category?

NOTE: I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for me to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

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