My Favorite Self-Help Book List— The Keepers

When I imagine a trip to a bookstore with family or friends, I know I will find my husband in Sci-fi and Adventure, and one of my daughters will be between Fiction and Non-Fiction and the other probably in the Sociology and Women Writers. They know that they can find me in the Self-Improvement section, where I’ll be checking out the latest trends from the self-help gurus. Over the years I have been more and more selective because I have bought a number of self-help books that were uninspiring, based on little more than the writers’ experience with little or no science or philosophy than one would find in a fortune cookie.

I recently decided it was time to organize and clean up my book case, and really enjoyed looking at the books that I have held onto for years, that have held up and stood the test of time— at least in my life. The books I parted with, some good, some not so good, were easy to let go of, and could potentially find a place on someone else’s book shelf.

The Keepers—

  • The Dance of Anger, by Harriet G. Lerner, 1985. Somewhere around 1990, my dear friend Carol Ernst was talking to me about this book, and I told her I hadn’t read it. I clearly recall Carol saying in astonishment, “You haven’t read that yet?” I felt obligated to read it because of her reaction. I also remember thinking, “I’m not one of those angry people,” and bought it anyhow. I love, love, love that book! The book helped my self-understanding, my intimate relationships, and as a bonus gave me a new perspective in my work as a therapist.

I was so impressed with this writing I kept copies available for my clients. I never had a client express disappointment in the book either. Somewhere around 1992 I went to a conference in Wichita, at the Menninger Clinic and actually met Harriet Lerner, shook her hand, and thanked her for the amazing book. She was friendly, kind, and gracious.

  • The Road Less Traveled, by Scott M. Peck, 1978. While I can only guess, I will bet that this book is on many people’s list of favorites and keepers. I read this in 1983, at the suggestion of one of my college professors at Mankato State. This book helped to face challenges with a new perspective, and to truly understand important concepts like delayed gratification, courage, love, and having a belief in a power greater than myself. Not preachy or pushy, Peck encouraged his readers to develop a spiritual understanding of life.
  • A Return to Love, by Marianne Williamson, 1992. I have no clue or memory of how I came upon this book. The subtitle, Reflections on the Principals of a Course in Miracles, could have meant nothing to me. The book is about Marianne’s experience with the Course, and how the Course philosophy had changed her perspectives and beliefs, and impacted her life. This is a book that I bought for many friends and family over the years. Funny thing, I don’t think anyone of my friends or family read it. A Return to Love inspired me to trust my spiritual instincts and to do good work, practice kindness and forgiveness. Eventually I bought a copy of The Course in Miracles text, which has also been valuable to me.
  • People of the Lie, by Scott M. Peck, 1983. Not so much true self-help genre, rather a thoughtful writing based on spiritual and some psychological views on the concept of evil. Compared to The Road Less Traveled, People of the Lie is much more conservative, mainstream fundamentalist protestant stuff that feels more “preachy”. Fascinating and sometimes frightening, this book looks at evil and the role that deception plays in behavior.
  • Healing Anxiety and Depression, by Daniel Amen, 2003. I learned about Dr. Amen initially during a fundraiser drive for public television. His life work has been neuro-psych and he claims over 17,000 brain scans were used in his research, and identified 7 types of anxiety and depression. He advocates for heavy use of Omega 3 supplements for anxiety and depression, as well as pharmacological medicines, exercise and nutrition; each specific for the type of anxiety and depression disorder. This book was very encouraging and provided me with motivation to clean up my diet and use supplements to support my mood. The 2003 publication date tells me that there have probably been many advances and increased understanding of the brain and I think Amen has likely been keeping abreast of these changes. Amen’s work is very compassionate and supportive of people struggling to find relief from these disorders.
  • There is Nothing Wrong with You, by Cheri Huber, 1993. I am currently re-reading this, and revisiting the concepts. This was my first exposure to mindfulness and “Zen” approaches to therapy. I recall finding the concepts a bit confusing at the time, partly because of the Eastern philosophy at the foundation of the book. I don’t know if this is still in publication and there is a plethora of good mindfulness and Zen therapy books available today. Much of the book is printed in a font that appears to be handwritten; this is a fairly fast read with an approach that is relaxed and comfortable. Huber gently challenges the reader that “there is nothing wrong with you” and I am inspired to apply these concepts to my life.

Anyone who knows me could rightfully guess that my bookshelf is still not really organized and I that I didn’t part with as many books as I should have. There are just too many keepers. At Christmas, I usually expect one of my daughters to give me a self -help book on hoarding and clutter.

Post your keepers and share your favorite self-improvement books. I’d love to hear from you and get a conversation started.

— Renee