I've just dropped the Playful Little One to the other parent. I've got an hour before my train and I dislike the empty feeling in my hand where hers used to hold mine. I'm listless and Sunday feels a long way. I head to the bookstore in the hopes of distraction.
I breeze straight past the fiction section. Where once I devoured fiction I've now ground to a standstill thanks to poor concentration skills and short term memory issues. Any plot with more than 3 characters and 2 locations loses me after just 20 pages. I'm sad for it but I've found a new fix and I know just where I'll find it.
The Self Help section is almost always in an obscure corner of any bookshop. I haven't quite fathomed the rule that causes this to happen but there's something to be said for standing awkwardly, trying to look like you have your s**t together in front of books titled "The Power of Now" or, "Solve your Anxiety- For Good!".
On this particular Friday night I'm struck by how crowded this usually quiet section is. Sure people come along, but usually they're furtive and quick to dismiss all titles and move off as if they surely didn't need help in the first place. I'm fairly sure most return within minutes of my departure, checking to see what carrion I've left behind. Tonight though, tonight I have 3 fellow readers for company.
Now there's a lot that could be drawn from this simple observation. It's a Friday night, it's 7pm and there's 4 women stood in the Self Help section. I'll let you draw whatever conclusion you wish from that but the thing that struck me the most is that no one is furtive tonight. We are all adopting that contemplative stance of a book shelf browser: head titled to one side, slight frown, scanning the shelves. We are at ease, no one is denying they meant to be in this particular section tonight.
A husband arrives and starts to prattle on about dinner. All 4 of us swivel our eyes to him, heads still at an angle and his sentence trails off into the ether as he feels the looks. His wife all but throws keys in his directions and he scuttles away. Silence resumes. Someone plucks a book of the shelf, ponders the blurb, changes their mind and returns it to the same spot.
I learnt some time ago to ignore most Self Help titles that start with 'The'. They're almost certainly proclaiming The Solution to my problem. The thing is, I'm not entirely sure what my particular problem might be. I just know I need help in the form of someone else's words tonight. So I browse, head titled and wait for a title to leap out at me and say, 'Kate, I have words to lose yourself in this miserable Friday night!'
In the past 6 months, I've picked up quite the self help habit. I know I'm not alone in it either judging by my comrades in the store. I have always been a little sniffy about this side of the publishing industry, using words like "preying on insecurities" and "flawed heroes". However, I've recently discovered the thrill of a woman's voice written with power and ease. I've found comfort in another articulating their face down in the dirt moment. I've particularly enjoyed making fellow commuters blush when they saw I was reading a book about finding yourself through your sexuality. I might get that particular title out again next time I'm bored on the 7.55.
The thing is, the Self Help section is where you find the most questions and the least answers in my experience and that, is proving very potent indeed.
If you're looking for words that might suit a Friday train journey, I can thoroughly recommend:
- Becoming- Laura Jane Williams
- We Should All Be Feminists- Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
- Rising Strong- Brene Brown
- Yes Please- Amy Poehler (Not technically a self help book but a bunch of YES moments nonethless)
- Reasons to Stay Alive- Matt Haig