Skip the self-help, opt for Beth Lisick's latest book

By Amy Shaunette

If there’s one thing the publishing world has enough of, it’s memoirs. We’ve devoured the miserable stories detailed in “A Child Called It” and “Running With Scissors.” We got through all 1008 pages of Bill Clinton’s “My Life,” and David Sedaris can’t have any more book-worthy life experiences, can he? Tried and true, the memoir as a literary form is a crowd pleaser we’ve overdosed on, but before giving up the addiction, there’s one more memoirist truly worth reading-Beth Lisick.Lisick, a San Francisco-based writer and spoken word performer, made the New York Times Best Seller list in 2005 with “Everybody Into the Pool,” a memoir recounting her suburban upbringing, a college job at a bakery, a brief attempt at lesbianism and shacking up with her boyfriend-turned-husband in a sketchy warehouse, among other hilarious affairs. Celebrated for her sharp wit and impeccable sense of humor, Lisick immediately established herself as one of America’s hippest writers. With the release of her latest book, “Helping Me Help Myself,” she’s got nowhere to go but up.

The tagline for “Helping Me Help Myself” perfectly sums up the premise of the book: “one skeptic, ten self-help gurus, and a year on the brink of the comfort zone.” Lisick, who has always cringed at the cheesier things in life, attempts to get her life together by devoting one year to following the advice of a different self-help author each month. Beginning with Jack Canfield of “Chicken Soup for the Soul” fame and ending with millionaire psychic Sylvia Browne, Lisick serves as a tour guide through the ominous self-help aisle, a place we’ve probably all wanted to visit if it weren’t so darn embarrassing.

Lisick is not exactly a prime candidate for self-help. She’s a successful writer, happily married and the mother of a cheerful toddler. Aside from being unable to find steady work, shop anywhere besides a thrift store and pay bills on time, Lisick has little to worry about, which is what makes her journey so funny. It’s easy to identify with her as she tries to organize her house and get her finances in order with help from the professionals. Because she is ashamed of her own irresponsibility and cynicism, readers commiserate with her-turns out, we’re not the only ones who can’t get our lives in order. In short, Lisick sifts through the self-help canon so we don’t have to, reading the books and attending conferences in hopes of sharing the good advice and shamelessly mocking the bad.

At a reading at Powell’s Books in Portland, Ore., this past January, Lisick said her favorite guru was Richard Simmons, a goofy, lovesick smile spreading across her face every time she mentioned his name. In the book’s most memorable chapter, she and a friend go on the Cruise to Lose, a weeklong Carnival cruise through the tropics with the fitness master himself. If “Helping Me Help Myself” had nothing else but the Richard Simmons chapter, it would still be a must-read book. Lisick dazzles with her account of waking up at 7:30 a.m. in a cruise ship cabin to do aerobics with Simmons, who apparently likes to kiss cruisers on the cheek and flash his tan butt cheeks in the dining room. In this chapter, it becomes apparent just how much fun Lisick had in her year of discovery, however emotionally draining it may have been. At the end of it all, Lisick is a changed woman, for better or for worse, sharing her newfound insights with a graceful balance of acceptance and doubt.

“Helping Me Help Myself” is one of those books that’s hard to put down, and even harder to leave behind. Her husband and son feel like family, and Lisick seems like a best friend, if not an alter-ego, and it’s not just because I idolize her-Lisick’s writing is just that good. She not only invites readers into her world but welcomes them, laying all her thoughts on the table. The only downside? I looked like a fool laughing out loud in a coffee shop every time I turned the page.