November 21, 2013

The ten best self-help books of 2013 are the ten worst gifts of 2013


I picked it out just for you!

Giving gifts is hard.

Sometimes you know the person too well (“he doesn’t deserve this”) and sometimes you don’t know them well enough (“I think I once saw her touch a rectangle.”) Sometimes you get them too much (“we’re not even dating anymore Brad”) and sometimes too little (“it is a very lovely spoon, thank you.”) But whatever else we gift givers may screw up, at least we have one guiding principle that will never change: do not, ever, under any circumstances, give a person a self-help book as a gift.

It’s one of the easiest rules in life, really. It’s right there in the name of the genre: self-help, not other-help. Most stores don’t stock a genre of book known as other-help. Waldenbooks used to have one for a while, back in the day, but they called it “Shitty-Gifts” and those books never seemed to do very well.

Why do self-help books make terrible gifts? Let’s allow Caroline Ceniza-Levine and her Forbes blog to illustrate.

Ceniza-Levine pulls together the ten best career and self-help books of the past year to help you with your gift giving. The first part of this is great. I didn’t have a chance to read a lot of self-help this year, as evidenced by the way I walk around with my pockets turned inside out, so it’s interesting to see what’s been coming out. The second part of this, the part where you supposedly give these books to other people, may be ill-advised. I’ve excerpted some of her choices.

Forget A Mentor, Get A Sponsor: The New Way To Fast-Track Your Career by Sylvia Ann Hewlett
For the corporate climber, this is the best career book of the year.

Setting aside the fact that anyone who might call themselves a “corporate climber” deserves only the worst gifts imaginable (“I got you some sputum!”), what is the message behind this book? Basically, that your career is stalled and you need help. I don’t doubt that having a sponsor, whatever that entails, is a great thing, but being told as much has to sting just a little.

Standing Ovation Presentations by Robyn Hatcher
Are you a Hero, Buddy, Sex Symbol, Curmudgeon…? Hatcher teaches presentation skills by breaking down people into 9 Actor Types.

The message here: “I wish you were Wilford Brimley.” That’s fair; I, too, wish most people were Wilford Brimley. But it’s widely considered rude to say as much with your gifts. This gets to the heart of why self-help books are bad presents: they acknowledge a flaw—real or imagined—about the recipient.

Funny Business by Bill Connolly
Connolly makes the case for developing business skills through comedy, pairing different comedy skills with their relevant business lesson (e.g., improvisational play and innovation). The stories of everyday people who also do comedy – a Homeland Security lawyer, an entire ad agency – are an extra fun touch.

“You are unfunny and bad at business. Merry Christmas!”

Job Searching with Social Media For Dummies by Joshua Waldman

This is not a book for dummies. It is for anyone who wants to know the latest tips and strategies for social media and job search.

“You are a dummy. Also, broke and bad at snapchatz. Happy Chanukah!”

Decisive: How To Make Better Choices In Life and Work by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
…full of useful, helpful strategies and examples for how to make better decisions.

“You are making bad decisions. Happy Baby Shower!”

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain
Just read the first few pages about the introvert at the negotiating table and you’ll be sucked in.

“You are …” actually she’s right, this book is great, and not really self-help. Good gift.

How Much Money Do I Need To Retire by Todd Tressider

…this book is the best I’ve seen on how to navigate the retirement savings question.

“You do not have enough money to retire. I could have given you cash but I spent it on this cruel reminder instead.”

Some of these are good books, I’ve no doubt. Imagine all the hilarious business jokes about business sponsors business people are cracking after having read these. That does not make them good gifts


Dustin Kurtz is the marketing manager of Melville House, and a former bookseller.