The self-help compulsion : searching for advice in modern literature

by Blum, Beth,

Format: Print Book 2020
Availability: Available at 2 Libraries 2 of 2 copies
Available (2)
Location Collection Call #
CLP - Main Library Second Floor - Non-fiction PN3352.P7 B58 2020
Location  CLP - Main Library
Collection  Second Floor - Non-fiction
Call Number  PN3352.P7 B58 2020
Northland Public Library Nonfiction 809.93 B62
Location  Northland Public Library
Collection  Nonfiction
Call Number  809.93 B62
Samuel Beckett as a guru for business executives? James Joyce as a guide to living a good life? The notion of notoriously experimental authors sharing a shelf with self-help books might seem far-fetched, yet a hidden history of rivalry, influence, and imitation links these two worlds. In The Self-Help Compulsion , Beth Blum reveals the profound entanglement of modern literature and commercial advice from the late nineteenth century to the present day.

Blum explores popular reading practices in which people turn to literature in search of practical advice alongside modern writers' rebukes of such instrumental purposes. As literary authors positioned themselves in opposition to people like Samuel Smiles and Dale Carnegie, readers turned to self-help for the promises of mobility, agency, and practical use that serious literature was reluctant to supply. Blum unearths a series of unlikely cases of the love-hate relationship between serious fiction and commercial advice, from Gustave Flaubert's mockery of early DIY culture to Dear Abby's cutting diagnoses of Nathanael West and from Virginia Woolf's ambivalent polemics against self-improvement to the ways that contemporary global authors such as Mohsin Hamid and Tash Aw explicitly draw on the self-help genre. She also traces the self-help industry's tendency to popularize, quote, and adapt literary wisdom and considers what it might have to teach today's university. Offering a new history of self-help's origins, appeal, and cultural and literary import around the world, this book reveals that self-help's most valuable secrets are not about getting rich or winning friends but about how and why people read.
Self-help's portable wisdom
Bouvard and PeĢcuchet: Flaubert's DIY dystopia
Negative visualization
Joyce for life
Modernism without tears
Practicality hunger
Coda: The shadow university of self-help.

Published Reviews
Publisher's Weekly Review: "Harvard English professor Blum's outstanding debut places self-help books in historical and literary contexts while making the case that their intent--to get readers to read for improvement--is a good thing, despite the genre being derided by many academics. Nonexperts may be surprised at the commercial popularity of the self-help category, she writes. To understand the mass appeal, she treats self-help books as literature--an approach that she maintains has been underutilized. Blum considers some of the earliest self-help (such as Joseph Alleine's 1689 A Sure Guide to Heaven); 19th-century "mutual improvement societies" that led the boom of self-help individualism, including Samuel Smiles's 1859 Self-Help (which, Blum argues, Gustave Flaubert lampooned in his novel Bouvard and Pecuchet); and the modern $10 billion industry that blends psychology with narrative storytelling. Blum believes there is a positive force at work--"At a time when the value of literature is often called into question, self-help offers a reminder of the promises of transformation, agency, culture, and wisdom that draw readers to books." Blum keeps things animated with frequent humorous asides, as when she notes that a 17th-century book on how to live a life that would land a person in heaven was parodied not long after by one titled A Sure Guide to Hell. This insightful look at a popular genre will give fans and critics alike much to contemplate. (Jan.)"
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Additional Information
Subjects Fiction -- History and criticism -- Theory, etc.
Fiction -- Psychological aspects.
Psychology in literature.
Psychology and literature.
Psychological literature.
Books and reading -- Psychological aspects.
Reading interests.
Self-help techniques.
Publisher New York :Columbia University Press,2020
Other Titles Searching for advice in modern literature
Language English
Description xiv, 328 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Bibliography Notes Includes bibliographical references (pages 261-318) and index.
ISBN 9780231194921
Other Classic View