I am an inveterate learner with low self-esteem, which makes me exactly the demographic for which the vast and highly lucrative self-help industry was created. It all started the year of the Christmas Plague, when I cowered in the basement to avoid the contagion that had laid my kin low upstairs. In a dusty corner, I discovered a paperback. It was the granddaddy of all make-yourself-a-better-person manuals, Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, and I read it in one sitting. (Literally one sitting; I didn’t entirely escape the Plague and spent a fair amount of time in the bathroom. TMI?)
Now, the fact that 30 years later I don’t have any more friends and am even less successful than I was when I picked up the book might have clued me in that this sort of literature may not be as reliably efficacious as their breathless cover blurbs suggest. Instead, it launched me into a lifelong pattern of buying just about any book whose title starts with those magical words: How to.
Over the years, my bookshelves* became crowded with a dizzying array of these transformative tomes, from How to Write Historical Fiction to How to Deal With Difficult People to How to Kiss (In my defense, I got that one at a garage sale for a dime.) I’ve got manuals for How to Fix Almost Anything, How to Sell What You Create and How to Make Tiny Animals Out of Clay. Apart from that last one, these haven’t made much difference in my life. I do, however, now have a nice collection of tiny, clay animals.
Amazon lists about 2.1 million items with titles that include “how to.” It was perhaps a mistake to conduct this tidbit of research, as I am now painfully aware of the deficit of one million how-to books in my collection (pretty sure I’ve got the .1 covered). Can I really live without the wisdom imparted by How to Hypnotize Anyone? Or How to Make $1,000 a Day on Amazon (as opposed to the $12.38 I currently make per year on Amazon)? Or How to Be Single? (On second thought, I’ve got that one mastered already.)
There are some genuinely intriguing titles out there. One can only imagine the poignancy and gripping suspense of How to Get Rid of Moles: A Personal Journey. And I’ve been fretting over how to broach the thorny topics tackled in How to Talk to Your Cat About Gun Safety and Abstinence, Drugs, Satanism and Other Dangers That Threaten Their Nine Lives.
Most recently I invested in How to Be a Well-Paid Freelance Blogger: Earn $50-$100 a Post and More. It seemed like it might be useful, since so far this blog has earned me $0.00-$0.00 per post (and less). Unfortunately, the very first page informed me that, in order to have a successful blog, I must provide useful content that people need. Well, crap. That’s well beyond my reach. Time, I think, to go to Plan B and place my order for How to Disappear and Start a New Life.
Yeah. That’ll work.
*For you whippersnappers out there, “book shelves” were what we had in the Olden Days before literature came from The Cloud in convenient digital form.