Jessica Lamb-Shapiro has finally told her dad what she really thinks about the 40 books he wrote, said Steve Dollar in The Wall Street Journal. In a memoir that’s also an idiosyncratic history of self-help, the 36-year-old New Yorker makes clear that her father, a child psychologist, was overly optimistic about his ability to become a new-age Dale Carnegie. None of his bids for a mainstream breakthrough panned out, and he was so relentlessly positive that she couldn’t always relate. Her mother, after all, had killed herself when Jessica was 2, leaving Jessica and her father to soldier on alone, each worried about hurting the other. Surprisingly, Lamb-Shapiro claims that writing about how she needed more has strengthened their bond. “You can only be so close to someone,” she says, “when you’re on your best behavior all the time.”
Lamb-Shapiro’s Promise Land doesn’t dismiss self-help books altogether, said Allison P. Davis in NYMag.com. They do offer people a form of therapy in times of need, she says, even when the promised change fails to arrive. “Not everybody has a therapist, or a family that supports them, or any support system at all. And then here are these books that are cheap, they’re easily accessible, and they make you feel better.” The best of them acknowledge that they don’t offer a sure fix, she says, but even the worst usually offer some nuggets that’d be helpful if all the nonsense were blacked out. “People need a mental Sharpie,” she says, so that they can “ignore what’s annoying and just take what’s useful.”
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