Personal Trauma Casts Pall over Self-Help Journey

By Fleischer, Stefan | The Buffalo News (Buffalo, NY), March 9, 2014 | Go to article overview

Personal Trauma Casts Pall over Self-Help Journey


Fleischer, Stefan, The Buffalo News (Buffalo, NY)


Book review: "Promise Land" by Jessica Lamb-Shapiro

Promise Land: My Journey Through America's Self-Help Culture - A Memoir

By Jessica Lamb-Shapiro Simon & Schuster 224 pages. $25

This is not a serious book. Jessica Lamb-Shapiro concentrates on self-betterment by a route that near the end of the book she admits is solipsistic, even narcissistic. Her gaze is entirely one of self- regard. The concept of civic life, to say nothing of politics, is entirely absent.

Near the end of "Promise Land" Lamb-Shapiro admits that she doesn't know why she embarked on the project in the first place. It seems it had its beginnings as a research project, with diligent hours in libraries and the amassing of note cards. It moved from there to "a journey through America's self-help culture," with the author as an anthropological participant/observer. In consequence of her divided effort, the entire venture has a ramshackle quality, but one that often makes for amusing, distinctly light reading.

The voice is early Diane Keaton by way of Nora Ephron. For most of the book Lamb-Shapiro acts the ditsy, scatterbrained tourist in the many and varied precincts of self-help land, with her amassed accumulation of note cards on the history of self-help literature trailing behind.

Nevertheless, Lamb-Shapiro has interesting, frequently diverting, things to say on the entire history of her too large container labeled the "culture of self-help." For example, the classic "How to Win Friends and Influence People" (1936 and continuously in print) comes up for particular deconstruction. She's very good on the trite language and the banal thought behind the language of "self-help." The term itself is a misnomer, since "self-help" relies entirely on gurus and a literature of guidance and "inspiration."

She wades confidently, but always too superficially, through hundreds of self-improvement books, pamphlets, work-sheets, daytime television (Drs. Phil and Oz receive prominent treatment) all the way to those nostrums aimed at insomniacs peddled on TV at 3 a.m.

Her comments are often cleverly dismissive. In a single paragraph for example she registers est (Erhard Seminars Training) and Esalen and then neatly summarizes how all such operations work: You get people to take their clothes off and then you yell at them.

Lamb-Shapiro takes on America's Self-Help culture for what is at first an unclear motive: She wonders why she either keeps searching out or rather casually visiting one self-help scheme after another; a weight loss robot, desensitization classes to overcome her serious fear of flying, a fire walking group, a grief camp, and more and more. On a number of these jaunts she accompanies her father who, although certified as a child psychologist, practices very little, and instead keeps traveling to conferences in the hope of learning the secret of the big score as a self-help expert.

She's smart enough to understand that her targets are mostly small fry, little cons of empty promises for great health, wealth and happiness (if you follow this easy-to-understand rule,) get all your friends into the game (they'll send money) and Oh, lest I forget, send the author a check.

But big fish as well as small are easy enough to demolish. In a lengthy first chapter she attends a conference led by Mark Victor Hansen on the topic of how would-be followers, her father included, could learn the secrets of building a successful self-help franchise modeled after the immensely successful "Chicken Soup" franchise built on the flagship "Chicken Soup for the Soul" blockbuster. Mark Victor Hanson feeds his passionate followers inspirational chicken soup, although it seems to me what they are getting is close to poisoned Kool-Aid.

Lamb-Shapiro gets into all this because her father is a distinctly a small fry in self-help land, a moderately unsuccessful purveyor of mostly self-published books and pamphlets. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Personal Trauma Casts Pall over Self-Help Journey
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.