Promise Land by Jessica Lamb Shapiro

Promise Land by Jessica Lamb-Shapiro

An Excerpt from Chapter One

When I began this project, I spent the first few years sitting diligently at the New York Public Library researching self-help books, visiting self-help groups, interviewing self-help purveyors. I amassed pages of notes, which I put into folders, which I put into files. I searched for a Definitive Stance. I began to think of self-help as an entity, an intractable adversary, an almost-being that had some type of relationship to me, a relationship that I was supposed to discern and describe. I wasn’t sure how this antagonistic plot was going to end, though it seemed there were limited options: one of us (me or self-help) was going to be revealed as the asshole, and for the sake of a happy ending I was rooting for self-help.

            Comprehending this world was less simple and straightforward than I had anticipated. No amount of pressure applied to stacks of self-help books, books about self-help books, or people who self-helped yielded any kind of satisfying clarity. Sometimes it seemed that the more I learned about self-help the more impenetrable it became. There were days when even the phrase sounded strange to me: “self-help,” I would mouth, as if, failing to wrap my brain around it, my lips would suffice. I was in a constant state of conflict, overwhelmed by paradox, and in search of a good fainting couch.


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