The all-too-familiar self-help genre has been steadily devouring space in bookstores for some time now, clogging up more and more shelves with the blathering tripe of money mongers passing themselves off as one kind of wellness or financial guru or another. It's an ugly trend with seemingly no end in sight and if things continue on this way, mark my words, some sort of horrible self-help apocalypse won't be far off. Thankfully, two brave young humorists have hurled themselves head on into the fray:Self-Helpless: The Greatest Self-Help Books You'll Never Need , by Jonathan Bines and Gary Greenberg, puts the likes of John Gray and Anthony Robbins right where they belong (and we all know where that is). It is a parody that has just been begging to be written.
Unlike such other contemporary masterpieces as Beavis and Butthead's Chicken Soup for the Butt which, brilliant as it may be, limits its focus to a single book,Self-Helpless manages to skewer the entire genre in one fell swoop by keeping to a short and sweet format. The book is comprised of the front and back covers of 60 or so of the most successful self-help titles in history; and this is plenty of room for Bines and Greenberg to maneuver. A few of my personal favorites include "I'm OJ You're OJ: The Transgressional Analysis Breakthrough That Will Leave You Feeling '100% Not Guilty'"; "Chairman Atkins' Glorious Revolution Diet"; and "Do What You Love and the Money Will Follow: Pursuing a Career in Sperm Bank Donation" ("'The key to a pleasurable and profitable future is atyourfingertips!' Self Entertainment Weekly").
While making fun of the self-help genre is admittedly not terribly difficult, by no means is this a perfunctory, throwaway send-up. The titles and covers are hilarious on their own, but it's in the blurbs on the flip side that Self-Helpless really sets itself apart from the glut of hack humor books that befoul the impulse-buy sections of bookstores everywhere. There lurks gratuitous silliness here, but gratuitous silliness with a cutting edge. Witness "The Habits of 7 Highly Defective People: Leadership Secrets of Mutants From the Editors of Modern Deformity," which gets two thumbs up from Mutant Business Quarterly (the two thumbs are on the same hand). The authors obviously had a great time coming up with this stuff. In fact they seem to have created an embarrassment of riches for themselves a list of suggestions for further reading at the back of Self-Helpless contains a whole sequel's worth of other made-up titles.
As with the best parodies,Self-Helpless has a real mean streak to it. It's probably too much to hope for that this will mark the beginning of the end for all absurd self-help books, that a bit of nasty parody will expose the ruse to the masses. But you gotta dream. And in the meantime, you should be enjoying crass, soul-blackening humor at its finest.