Back in my university days when I worked at a local Chapters bookstore, I remember one of the managers telling me that books are one of the most unique purchases that we can make. After all, there’s not really a way to fully try it out before you buy it. You can’t try on a book (like clothes), you can’t taste test it (like food), and you can’t listen to it first (like music). Sure, you can read a few pages before you buy it, but what if you choose the few pages that aren’t representative of the book as a whole? It happens. It’s not uncommon to buy a book, get halfway through it and realize that you hate it. So, my hope with this post is to try to minimize the number of half read, crappy self-help books that you abandon on your shelf.
Know what you are looking for. Yup, that probably sounds like an obvious one. However, working in a bookstore taught me that many people do not actually know what they are looking for. Just because a book is a bestseller, has an attractive cover, or a humorous title, does not mean that it will be useful or even relevant to your struggles. Knowing the topic you’re looking for or the needs that you want to meet with a self-help book is essential. Some people want to gain knowledge; others want specific strategies for dealing with an issue. Some want a book with lots of scientific research; others want humorous real-life stories. Having an idea of what you’re looking for will narrow down your search.
Ask for suggestions. Really, you could ask anyone for a suggestion. Friends, family, counsellors, doctors, online forums, bookstore employees, librarians…there is a wealth of people who could potentially provide good book suggestions. When asking for suggestions, it is helpful to let the other person know what you are looking for in a self-help book.
Read reviews that have been written by real people. Reviews and honest comments can be helpful when choosing a self-help book. Usually books are covered with positive reviews by newspapers, other authors, or professionals in the field of study being discussed in the book. Keep in mind – those reviewers are generally not reading the book with the same purpose as you. They are reading it to review it, not to utilize the information or strategies being presented. Reviews by real people can usually be found on bookstore websites and may give you a more honest impression of the usefulness of the book.
Read the table of contents and/or the first chapter. Ok, don’t misinterpret this one – it is not a guarantee that this book will be useful. Like I mentioned above, there is no 100% effective way to test out a book without reading it in its entirety. However, reading the table of contents and/or first chapter may give you a better understanding of whether the book could meet your needs. You’ll get a feel for what information the book contains and the style of writing this way. Is it academic? Colloquial? Research heavy? Full of personal stories? Will you likely learn useful strategies or will it be more informational?
Allow yourself to be picky. Seriously. Judge the book and be a harsh critic. Just because a book was totally awesome for one person, does not mean that it will the best book for you. Ultimately, only you will know what is likely to be best for you. So trust your gut and pick a book that gives you hope!