Monday, March 15, 2010

The Self-Improvement Aisle

In Self-Improvement--one of the top five categories for books in the nation--I am alphabetizing by the last name of the author. I never get past M for mountebank.

Wonderful Concern
Top purchaser of Laura S's 10 things women do to ruin their futures is Daddies who respect that their daughters are grown, but think they are screwing up royally. They can't actually talk sex and bad boyfriends face-to-face, so they get the book and hand it over. Maybe they highlight the relevant passages first. I'm guessing not, in case things are more comprehensively bad than they know.

Petty Concern
A mom comes in for a book on grief for step-granddaughters. We only have two books for grieving granddaughters. The woman won't buy one, because she wasn't a real grandma but a step-grandma. I know you think I am making this up.

Cheerfully Low
A pretty young woman asks for a book for raising self-esteem. I give her two to look at. She asks me to pick it out, since her low self-esteem means she won’t know what to pick.

I show her how to check for credentials of the author and show her how to compare passages. “You should find the one that Speaks to You,” I tell her. "Listen to your Inner Voice, it will Empower you." 

Okay, it gets tough now.

Distressing Open-ness
An overweight and sweaty man asks for books on overcoming child sexual abuse. He is, underneath the ick, a desperate (didn’t get the pervert vibe) man. He tells me all the books we have are about girl victims, but he was a victim and he wants a book with help for male victims. I explain that 
a. I have not read all these books, and 
b. compassion means extrapolating feelings of others to oneself. 

This does not fly. It never does.

Then to prove to me he’s not gay or a pedophile, he loudly examines books on adult sex. Yeah, it was the ick, but not compared to some ick I have encountered (all clothes intact, thank you). I felt bad for him. I wanted him to go away and never come back. 

Distressing Silence
A very lady-like grandmother comes in. She wants a book that will teach her granddaughter to not be mad. Okay, anger management. I got a bunch of them out. They won't quite suit.

Finally she admits the anger is due to the girl's mom going to prison. I look for some books about prison-related separation and grief. Those won't do either. Besides, they are all special orders. 

So now grandma admits that she wants a book to teach her granddaughter not to be mad about the fact that mom and her boyfriend were sexually abusing her over a number of years and that is why mom is going to prison.

At this point, I lose patience. "I'm sorry, ma'am," I tell her. "It sounds to me like your granddaughter should be very angry. And there are some situations a $14.95 book just won't cover. I advise you to seek professional help for your granddaughter right away."

In case you are wondering, these examples cover two afternoons, with the exception of the concerned Dads above, which happened over and over. On days like this, I used to pick up the A.A. 'twelve steps & twelve traditions' book on my way to a well-deserved fifteen-minute break. I would read the steps over and over again. I am not in a Twelve-Step program, but I still think it is the sanest book on the aisle.


Bob G. said...

Hey, whoever said assisting people in a bookstore would be EASY, hmm?

Very good post...musta met most ALL those people myself while browsing.


Unknown said...

I would think there would be a ton of weight loss type stuff inquired about. It seems everybody is on a diet, going to start a diet or wants to try a new diet....always.

The Bug said...

I remember a book from my seminary days that was for adult men who had been sexually abused. It was similar to The Courage To Heal, which was for women. Hmmm. Don't remember the name of it. I'll have to see if I can find out in case he comes back!

Ann T. said...

Dear Bob,
Earlier response had a typo--

Yup, I'm just like Lucy: The Doc is In, 5-cents!

I provided customer service and occasional reality checks. Retail is a trip and a half.

Read on, if you so desire,
Ann T.

Dear peedee,
The diet books were in health, but yes, the same attitude applies EXCEPT:
people don't like to talk about their problem weight (which everyone can see) but they will gladly talk about their personality challenge (which no one can see until they tell you).

This is bizarre, but obviously I do it myself, :-) since everybody here knows I've got personal struggles, and nothing whatsoever about my diet (broccoli, of course).

Dear The Bug,
In the interest of shortening the story, I didn't include that that man HAD that book and wanted another.

Really he didn't want a book, he wanted a mixture of counseling and an audience. This happens a lot in retail. People will tell you many things b/c they don't have anyone else to tell it to, and the sales person is actively listening. The number of gregarious and/or accomplished people suffering in near-silence--

--argues not for a self-improvement book, but a change in how we talk to each other. Of course there are books about that too.

An office job frequently gives a family dynamic, but a public service job gives the random postcards from all over. Eventually those postcards resolve into themes. IMHO, most of those are desperate themes.

Of course, well-adjusted people don't usually need to vent on salespeople . . . so my view could be skewed.

IMHO, people are also getting a lot of bad advice, but aren't always committed to seeking out the good advice-- in diet and self-improvement.

Thanks to everybody for writing in!

Ann T.

The Observer said...

Ann T.

I've started and stopped about 5 comments to this post.

Two things then, to KISS. One, I have given up on most "Self Help" tomes. Two, following a program based on the twelve steps and going to a recovery group might be the best thing you could do to help yourself.

I think that'll do.

The Observer

Ann T. said...

Dear The Observer,
Some posts ARE hard to comment on.

I, too, have given up on the self-help books. I am a talker, and nuts as I may be, talking to a book is just not the same.

I have the blue book, the 12 steps & 12 traditions, and one affirmation book for adult children of alcoholics that I never use but is there if I want it. The 12/12 is pretty good advice for everybody, I think.

The other thing I use for self-improvement is an Officer's Handbook from the USAF circa 1950. Absolutely true! And it cost me $1 at a used book store.

Thanks for writing in! Hard as it may have been,
Ann T.