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Seven Self-Help Books for Human Disasters

Rick Pyrrh By Rick Pyrrh Published on January 10, 2017
This article was updated on February 8, 2017
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Goya's Saturno accurately captures the tone of modern life.

Now that January is well and truly under way, most ordinary people are putting their lives back together, hitting the gym, eating healthy, the whole business. We’re not all cut out for that kind of lifestyle though. Some of us are finding ourselves back at work, still sobering up after a rough week off, and facing up to the devastating reality that the holidays couldn’t last forever. Worse still, the person who came back to work seems to be a little bit worse for wear, a little doughy around the middle and with skin that can only be described generously as “mottled.”

For those of us who have spent the first weeks of the new year slowly learning to give up on ourselves, it’s important to have some self-help books that don’t set the bar too high... or at least that might help us come to terms with our new life as a dreadful mess.

So, if that extra holiday weight is slowly transitioning from “just more of me to love” to “I am drowning in this flesh cocoon,” then these are the books for you. If your resolve to get fit has only given you the ability to stare at a gym membership with stronger-than-usual resentment, you've come to the right place.

This is a list for those of us too ineffectual to ever find use in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (and anyway, I don’t have time for seven new habits, I can barely manage the smoking and drinking habits I’ve got).

Joshua Piven & David Borgenicht: The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook

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The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook is a key text for us human derelicts. After all, it contains such useful information as how to escape from quicksand, how to wrestle an alligator, and how to jump from a motorcycle into a moving car.

Naturally, in the course of your career as a human-sloth-hybrid, you are unlikely to actually need any of those skills, but the important thing is that you could be spending more time worrying about them. Studies have shown that the more time you spend figuring out how to maximise your chances of surviving a gunshot wound, the less time you’ll have left to spend worrying about whether or not you’re paying tax correctly, or booking a dental appointment.

This is a must-own book for career procrastinators.

Buy here.

Sarah Andersen: Adulthood is a Myth

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Phase one of any good year is the complete abdication of any and all responsibility. If you feel as though you might somehow “fail” when you don’t achieve all of your resolutions, then you should consider the fact that none of us are properly prepared for the world in the first place. Your "failure" began years ago, when you were a child.

Indeed, most of us still are children. The whole concept of being a grown-up is a scam and even the people who seem like they’re good at it are probably secretly dreadful in some way or another.

The book's message is delivered through the medium of comic strips, meaning it has a more immediately delivery system than plain text. If you’re feeling overwhelmed with the chaos of your so-called life, comics are an immediate salve; allow your eyes to drink in the soothing artwork. This is an anchor for those of us adrift on the roiling sea of adult life.

Buy here.

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Adam Resnick: Will Not Attend: Lively Stories of Detachment and Isolation

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You may have already noticed that not all of these books are officially “self help” books. That’s not just because we’re confused and unfocused. Rather than only considering books that are clearly labelled “self help,” we have also included some books that stand to improve quality-of-life for mistakes-of-creation like us. Will Not Attend is a book of essays about a life lived in a state described as “euphorically antisocial.” If you’re going to commit to the life of a human disaster, then you’d do well to investigate Will Not Attend’s sense of whimsical misanthropy.

While the book documents some of the formative moments that have come to shape its writer, it is at its best when it engages with those aspects of the human condition that will resonate with those of us living the ambulatory-mess lifestyle.

Describing his relationship with fast food, Resnick comments,

“Only a narcissistic asshole would consider his body a temple. When the urge hits me for this sort of fare, two things are assured: I’ll walk into the restaurant, salivating like a Bernese mountain dog, and exit, feeling like a drug mule with a ruptured condom in his large intestine.”

We’ve all been there, but somehow reading that sentiment in a book makes it feel acceptable, even if we know deep down that it isn’t.

Buy here.

Joe Lycett: Parsnips Buttered: Bamboozle and Boycott Modern Life, One Email at a Time

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Joe Lycett believes that we are “a generation bombarded.” Continually assaulted by an endless barrage of updates, feeds, timelines, emails, Tweets, and likes, it’s easy to find yourself lost under the deluge. Lycett’s Parsnips Buttered: Bamboozle and Boycott Modern Life, One Email at a Time enables readers to identify and combat the those who would try and take advantage of their state of perpetual confusion.

Parsnips Buttered encourages us shambling horrors to meet the chaos of the wider world head on, attacking it with our own roiling internal chaos. It’s a simple formula, but one that should serve well to confound those who would take advantage of our relative helplessness in the so-called “real world.”

Lycett also explains the manifold advantages of maintaining a stable of pseudonyms through which you can conduct your correspondences. If nothing else, this is an excellent introduction for those of us living a life of such reckless abandon that we will soon have to flee the country and change our names.

Buy here.

Danny Wallace: Yes Man

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There is a genuine power in the ability to say “no” that is too often overlooked, but who among us hasn't wondered occasionally if we're being too negative? Danny Wallace’s Yes Man is less a self-help book than an extended parable about the dangers of being too agreeable. 

This is a core text for those of us who might otherwise be labelled “crotchety,” “stubborn,” “stand-offish” or even “a total jerk.” Of course, the core message of Yes Man is that sometimes just saying “yes” to things can land you in fantastic situations, but the lesson to be learned is that saying “yes” is a fickle business, and one that will land you in trouble just as often.

It should probably be noted that Wallace himself seems to paint the experiment as broadly positive, but that view doesn’t hold quite as much water since the transition into a movie. The book is distinct from the film largely in that it is not dreadful… an object lesson that perhaps Danny Wallace needed to learn to start saying “no” to people sooner.

Say "Yes" here.

Barbara Ann Kipfer: 14,000 Things to Be Happy About

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One good way to approach a new year is to just settle on a few small things that you can be happy about and focus on those. Now, I know that a lot of you will be thinking that this book sets an unreasonable goal, after all, many of us struggle to find one thing to be happy about at a time. There are probably vanishingly few people who can even remember 14,000 things, much less be happy about them.

Before you start dividing your timetable up into 14,000 individual slots so that you can allocate time to be happy about each of them in turn over the coming year, consider how well this book would suit a chaotic, disorganised approach. Whenever you’re feeling down, crack open a random page for an instant hit of satisfaction, then just be happy about whatever you happen to read there. 

Armed with 14,000 Things to Be Happy About, you can commit fully to being a kind of urban castaway, drifting hither and thither, happy only about the things that grab your attention.

Buy here.

Guy Fieri: Guy Fieri Food: Cookin' it, Livin' it, Lovin' it

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This last book is something of a change of direction. After all, Guy Fieri hardly seems like the kind of person that most of us would want to emulate, but it can be important to look beyond the surface. After all, this is an article for “human disasters” and it seems impossible that there could be a single person who more completely encapsulates that concept than Guy Fieri.

Despite that fact, Fieri has triumphed beyond all reason. He is the star of any number of television programs. He has authored many books. He has eaten objects that appear to come from cursed alternate realities and lived to tell the tale.

If Guy Fieri can do these things and be successful then there is no reason on God’s green earth that you can’t too, but first, you must learn to think as Guy Fieri does. Dream as Guy Fieri does. Eat as Guy Fieri does. Plumb the depths of whatever it is that constitutes “Guy Fieri Food” and see where it can take you.

Invite Guy Fieri into your home, keep him within easy sight as a totemic presence. There is nothing you cannot achieve.

Buy here.

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A former military man, Rick would say that he specializes in snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.