Suggestions for Self-Help (Books)

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As a kid, I was lucky enough to discover on my mother’s bookshelf a title she had long since forgotten, "Who Moved my Cheese?", a business self-help book based on a parable about lab rats in a maze who must adapt to changes in their food source. The plot itself is too dull and weird to summarize in this blog post, but I will say that the book aimed to help people adapt to change, that a few too many of its plot devices involved rotten dairy and that it captivated my fifth-grade mind with its practical advice and inspirational sayings. I couldn’t help it: I’ve always loved self-help literature.

But I also love good writing. And as "Who Moved my Cheese?" demonstrates beautifully, self-help books are generally written in the voice of an overenthusiastic flight attendant who has taken one too many public-speaking correspondence courses. Which is why I was so pleased to discover "How to Be Useful: A Beginner's Guide to Not Hating Work," by Megan Hustad, over spring break. This book is smart, well written and genuinely helpful. And, because we live in an age where blatant self-improvement is seen as decidedly uncool, I can assure you that the book has sleek enough cover art to camouflage its inspirational interior.

"How to Be Useful" focuses primarily on succeeding in the workplace, but it offers great tips on how to behave in life in general. To write the book, Hustad combed through over 100 years of success literature, from Dale Carnegie’s 1936 hit "How to Win Friends & Influence People" to 1975’s "Dress for Success." Hustad has packaged the best parts of those titles and more into 10 chapters with titles like “When It’s Just Not about You” and “The Uses of No.” She writes sharply, humorously, and offers examples that don’t hinge on overwrought metaphors about lab rats, i.e., they feature real people. And because much of what she’s saying focuses on how to make it as a newcomer in an office, the book has a special appeal to college students trying to make it in a labor market dominated by internships.

As Hustad states in her introduction, “Cracking open a book is certainly preferable to resigning yourself to subordinate status and hating yourself for it.” What better reason do you need to read "How to Be Useful" before that next internship? Trust me, it will teach you more than how to make copies.