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Self Helplessby Jonathan Bines and Gary Greenberg

I'll never forget the first time I discovered satire. It was as a tightly controlled Catholic schoolgirl in early teens when the writings of Jonathan Swift became required reading. The pokes he took at adult rules, social proprieties, governmental foibles, even the conduct of the CHURCH, were frightening and exhilarating. You mean you can get away with saying these things; you can even become famous for writing them? And all you have to do when they come after you is throw up your hands in innocence and insist: "It's parody! It's satire! It's allowed!"

Jonathan Bines may not be Jonathan Swift, but he and Gary Greenberg certainly know how to get howls out of today's conduct and foibles. One of the biggest of these is the self-help business. The number of books published in this area is huge; it's always one of the largest sections of the bookstore. Who is reading all these billions of words assuring us that we can get-happy-quick-in-three-simple steps? I'm not, and I'm sure you're not, but someone must be or there wouldn't be the market for it. Bines and Greenberg's book, Self Helpless: The Greatest Self-Help Books You'll Never Read is for those folks, and for any of us who once thought that 300 pages of large type was all that stood between us and feeling OK.

A surprising number of real names, faces and trademarks appear in Self Helpless, not always treated with the greatest respect. For example, the notorious athlete's visage is featured on the cover of, "I'm OJ, You're OJ," which promises to show us how to overcome guilt, no matter what our transgressions. The authors assure us, "We've all done things in life we're not proud of. Some [of us] have cheated on [our] income taxes, others have betrayed a friend's trust, [or] slaughtered our wife and her friend in cold blood near the front gate of her Brentwood condominium, and then learned through transgressional analysis how to feel "100% not guilty."

Wow. Can they get away with that?

Apparently so. The authors display the same keen understanding of the power of satire that I had in grade school when they claim in their, "Notice of Limitation of Liability": "[This] book is a work of parody, and... to initiate legal action against the authors, or publisher of a work of parody would be, and is acknowledged to be, lame."

In other words, it's allowed!

I recommend Self Helpless without reservation. Of course, some of you may find the simple how-to details in Thin Thighs For Thiry Bucks a bit graphic, (i.e., for the at home Nose Job, all you need is a mallet, vegetable peeler, carpenter's putty and Q-tips, cost $27.95; or the even simpler Hair Replacement, requiring only a toupee and staple gun, time: 2 minutes, cost: $35.20.) Others may hold that the self-help industry has done much toward allowing multitudes of hurting individuals to learn, through the relatively inexpensive process of reading, to forgo many self-defeating behaviors, and therefore deserves reverence. For you, I recommend a quick visit to Bines and Greenberg's Chicken Suit For The Soul, followed by a Limbering To Prozac workout as a means to help yourself lighten up.

I gotta go. I'm off to take advantage of some recommended follow-up reading, Venus And Mars On A Bender.

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