Self-Help, Inc: Makeover Culture in American Life

Self-Help, Inc: Makeover Culture in American Life

Self-Help, Inc: Makeover Culture in American Life

Self-Help, Inc: Makeover Culture in American Life

Excerpt

The part I really don't understand is if you're looking for self help,
why would you read a book written by somebody else? That's not
self-help, that's help.

George Carlin

Imagine a self and then invent that self. Picture a life, then create that life. The ideal of self-invention has long infused American culture with a sense of endless possibility. Nowhere is this ideal more evident than in the burgeoning literatures of self-improvement—a sector of the publishing industry that expanded dramatically in the last quarter of the twentieth century, particularly in its final decade. The trade publication American Bookseller reports that self-help book sales rose by 96 percent in the five years between 1991 and 1996. By 1998, self-help book sales were said to total some $581 million, where they constituted a powerful force within the publishing industry, shoring up profits in an era of bottom-line publishing faced with otherwise declining sales, unearned author advances, and hard cover return rates soaring to 45 percent nationally. Indeed, the self-improvement industry, inclusive of books, seminars, audio and video products, and personal coaching, is said to constitute a $2.48-billion-a-year industry. One-third to one-half of Americans have purchased a self-help book in their lifetimes. One New York City bookstore allocates a quarter mile of shelf space to the various subcategories of self-improvement literature. And perhaps most impressively, between 1972 and 2000, the number of self-help books more than doubled, increasing from 1.1 percent to 2.4 percent of the total . . .

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