Self Help

Book Review: Quentin Smeltzer, Self-Help

Is your bank account empty? Has your job hit a dead end – or just ended? Is your love life in the gutter, your phone silent, and your house a mess?

If so, you need Quentin Smeltzer's Self-Help. Not because it'll make you a better person – it really, really won't – but because it illustrates, with astonishing clarity and poorly-produced chart graphics, the spectacular depths of failure to which you could have sunk, if you had tried . And that's every bit as good as succeeding! Isn't it?

Self-Help: Your Complete Book of Bad Advice is a delightfully silly parody of the entire self-help book genre. You know them: books that promise everything from fame to whiter teeth if you, the reader, will just follow their cheerful instructions. The down side, of course, is that if you don't achieve instant stardom or fresher breath, most self-help books make it clear that you have no one to blame but yourself. Perhaps you should read more carefully, or yank a little harder on those bootstraps.

In Self-Help, Quentin Smeltzer (not his real name) sidesteps the nasty little problem of reader disobedience by providing advice so terrible that no one who follows it can possibly fail to fail. Unless one fails to read Self-Help altogether. But that would mean you've failed at failing, and who wants to admit to that, really?

In recognition of the God-given ability to fail inherent in every human being, Smeltzer thoughtfully provides un-follow-able advice to match any reader's needs. From climbing the corporate ladder ("Explain to your supervisor that you're not really late for work because time itself is an illusory concept") to becoming a rock-star parent ("The more likely you are to be mistaken for a potted plant the better a father you will be "), if you care about anything, anything at all, Self-Help will cure you of that nonsense right quick.

As if exemplifying the author's belief that anyone can be a successful failure if they simply try hard enough, Self-Help doesn't rely on words alone to get its message across. For those who have trouble with reading or following printed instructions, Self-Help also provides helpful graphs the reader can use to measure his or her progress. Like the helpful graphs in so many other self-help books, Smeltzer has given his graphs an adorable acronym that makes their use easy to remember. Unlike the helpful graphs in so many other self-help books, however, Smeltzer's graphs have an adorable acronym that accurately describes what the graph is all about, not to mention what the author and audience are thinking: SHAM (stands for "Self Help Assessment Meter ").

And, if you're just too busy becoming a perfect failure to actually read Smeltzer's book, almost every chapter contains a "Checklist for Success" that sums up the chapter's main points. From "realized that traffic laws are only for the timid and the weak" to "Still hate my cable company," each "Checklist for Success" provides invaluable advice for a long, frustrating, and fruitless life. Which is pretty much what you'll get out of every other self-help book on the market, right?

Seriously – this book is a hoot. You'll love it. And if you don't, it's only because you haven't bought enough copies of it yet.

Quentin Smeltzer, Self-Help: Your Complete Book of Bad Advice for Every Situation in Life. Outskirts Press, 2010. 211 pp., $ 22.95. 9781432753146.

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