When editor Rachel Smalter Hall realized that self-development titles were not the only places she was gleaning her life lessons, so much became clear. See how closely her experiences match or differ from yours, and we bet you’ll find they somehow still resonate.By Rachel Smalter HallJan 9, 2018 3:57 AM
Who doesn't love January's promise of a fresh slate? We all seem to be thinking about how to be our best selves, and there are plenty of self-help books that promise to help us sort this out. Over the years I've listened to -- and loved -- my share of buzzy self-improvement hits like The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and Year of Yes. But, this January, I found myself wondering why I don't pick up audiobooks that will inspire me to live a healthier and happier life more often. Why don't I listen to more self-help?
There's no question I could use it.
Last year brought me massive life changes that have been good but hard. In the spring, my grandmother died and I miscarried a child and I lost my job, all within a matter of weeks. Oof. And then life surprised me with a dream job, a move to New York from Kansas City, and a healthy pregnancy for a baby that will be born next month. Life had handed me a dumpster fire, and up from the ashes rose a dumpster phoenix.
I'm still learning how to find my way in this new life, and I often feel so wrung out at the end of each hard-won day that I'm lucky if I can find the energy to do anything more than tap away on my cell screen for a few minutes before I crash into bed for the night. Remembering to take my vitamins and brush my teeth on the same day feels like a huge victory. Exercise, what's that?! Gone are the days of group Pilates with the seniors at the YMCA three mornings a week. And maybe I could eat something for lunch besides cake and cookies? What I'm saying is: surely a little self-help couldn't hurt.
Then it hit me: I do listen to self-help books, just not the kind you'd usually find in the nonfiction section. I get most of my self-help from novels.
Fiction might not have a checklist at the end of each chapter to help one live a better life, but it does provide a narrative lens through which to view the human experience. It's proven to help build empathy, and it can give us tools to make sense of our own lives and how we relate to others. As a lifelong, card-carrying bookworm, here are some of the unlikely lessons I've mined from the stories I've listened to and loved.