If I ever again feel tempted by the extravagant claims on the covers of self-help books, I will turn away. To free associate, this genre's salient descriptors seem to include: maudlin, lugubrious, platiudinous, formulaic, artless, drek. I wasted about an hour and a half on a 'self help' book this afternoon, which I now regret. Contrary to the claims of the publisher, it was a complete bummer--encouraging readers to wallow endlessly in their 'pain' so they can be freed from it. The question is: does the 'implosion' theory of 'personal growth' (e.g., if you want to be free of something, go farther into it) hold water? This n=1 study (sample size: me) suggests "no."
By contrast, I spent one particularly bleak Thanksgiving vacation during my junior year in college reading Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston. When I finished, I cried like a baby for two straight days. The book was poignant--beautiful, sad, and uplifting. My tears notwithstanding, I felt wonderful after reading it. Many years later, I can still feel the lesson.
From now on, I think I'll stick with fiction.