A friend is paring down her book collection, so I went over to her place to grab some of the good stuff. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it!) our tastes differ widely -- I like romance for light reading, whereas she recoils in horror at the very thought; she has a fondness for self-help books, whilst I turn up my nose at them in disdain.
I always avoid the "self-improvement" section in bookstores. I think part of it stems from the fact that I feel reading is not the way to go if you really want to solve a problem or rectify a situation. Reading is so... cerebral. It's all about theory. And from experience, I know that having all that theory, that knowledge, can be a sort of security blanket. You try to find out as much as possible about a situation in order to feel that you have some sort of handle on it, but in reality, you're not doing anything about it. Understanding is good, up to a point, but too much of that and it becomes hiding instead.
There's another thing about self-help books: they get my back up. You know that feeling when you're at a social gathering and someone says, "I know just the thing that will help you"? The inner recoil you have when someone walks up to you and gives you totally unsocilited advice, when they don't know the first thing about what you're going through? Well, I sort of feel that way with self-improvement books. Who do you think you are, and what makes you think you are qualified to tell me what to do? I know, it's a bit silly, but I have never liked benevolent "I just wanted to help" types. I suppose I could still read and discard whatever I didn't like or didn't agree with, which brings me to my next point...
I'm terribly skeptical about most self-help books. They're often either filled with generalisations, or advice that worked for the author in the author's particular circumstances. I'm skeptical because the author is trying to say, "My way is the best way" and I don't necessarily believe that there is always one best way for everyone -- I don't believe that his best way will be my best way. The more popular the book, the more skeptical I become. Some people would say that the book's popularity proves there must be something to it, or the masses would not be rushing to buy it. But I've seen fads come and go, watched the mob mentality at work, and found that people jump on the bandwagon all too easily. All it takes, for example, is a celebrity endorsement, and consumers will be out in droves to get the book. No, just because a book is popular, that doesn't mean it's good.
The funny thing is that I'm starting to realise a lot of Christian books are really self-help books. They covertly masquerade under the cover of religiosity or spirituality, but they are always telling you how you should live out your faith, how to know God better or pray more effectively or live a more holy life or whatever. This might explain why I haven't bought a Christian book in years and haven't read one in at least as long. Not that I don't need any help, but the kind of help I need, I don't think books can give me: I have the Bible, I know the right things to do -- it's the doing that's hard!