The Self-Help Compulsion: Searching for Advice in Modern Literature

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Product Details
Columbia University Press
Publish Date
6.3 X 9.1 X 1.2 inches | 1.3 pounds

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About the Author
Beth Blum is assistant professor of English at Harvard University.
A deep scholarly probe into self-help's inextricable influence on the history and future of literature.--Kirkus Reviews
Blum's outstanding debut places self-help books in historical and literary contexts. . . . This insightful look at a popular genre will give fans and critics alike much to contemplate.--Publishers Weekly
Self-help books have become the favorite reading of Americans, and English professors are no exception. Until Beth Blum's ferociously witty yet ultimately sympathetic study, however, few critics saw any way to connect their lowbrow guilty pleasure with the high-flown ambitions of literary theory. Blum's intellectual history of self-help takes seriously the ideas as well as the institutions involved in the production of this body of practical knowledge. Self-help thus stands revealed as the uncanny double not just of literature itself but of literary theory.--Leah Price, author of What We Talk About When We Talk About Books
Beth Blum has opened our eyes to a fascinating area: the intersection between self-help and serious literature. Blum is deeply unusual among scholars in appreciating the extent to which ordinary readers seek solace and insight in literature--and she explores the consequences of this idea in a series of readings of important and interesting writers. This book is sure to deepen our understanding of a genre of literature that has perhaps been too hastily dismissed in the past.--Alain de Botton, author of How Proust Can Change Your Life
Beth Blum places us at the cross road of creation. Here at last we can see the "self-improvement axioms" hidden in the rarified atmosphere of Virginia Woolf's modernism, Marcel Proust in the company of advice columnist Ann Landers, a poem by Baudelaire enumerating his recent reading of self-help books. In moments of acute love or loss or fear, literature can feel like a rope bridge carrying us safely across a ravine. Beth Blum's brilliant and startling book shows us why.--Elaine Scarry, Walter M. Cabot Professor of Aesthetics and the General Theory of Value at Harvard University
Beth Blum's The Self-Help Compulsion is the first book to explore the multiple forms of contact, influence, negotiation, strife, and imitation between modern fiction and self-help literature, and the result is breathtaking. Any scholars who assume that self-help books are not worth their attention or that self-help and serious literature have nothing to do with each other will be wholly disabused and wonderfully edified by Blum's magisterial study.--Timothy Aubry, author of Guilty Aesthetic Pleasures
In this witty and original study, Beth Blum traces the diffusion of a nebulous genre--textual advice--into artistic zones in which one does not expect to find it. Unpacking self-help's collectivist, working-class origins, and tracing the impact of its commercialization on the styles of James, Woolf, Beckett, Joyce, and others, Blum's story of popular morality's various roles in the genealogy of modernism unfolds with critical incision and humor. What an eye-opening book!--Sianne Ngai, University of Chicago
Sedulously researched . . . The Self-Help Compulsion traces the evolution of self-help books, places them in historical context, and, perhaps most strikingly, suggests that they're worthy of more respect than they get.--Wall Street Journal