I was sitting next to a woman on the train yesterday who turned to me and kindly asked what book I was reading. I proudly held up my tattered copy of To Kill a Mockingbird. She seemed pleased, and said, “Oh, I’ll have to read that one,” as we seemed to be in this momentary, mutual agreement that this is classic literature and of course, she should read it too. But, when she held up her copy of Dr. Francis Falk’s On My Own: the Art of Being Alone, I realized my neighbor on the metro was less interested in the works of Harper Lee, and more in excitedly recommending the book she was reading.
I looked up the website later and, bathed in the usual calming blue pastels of self-help literature, read the synopsis:
At some point over the course of the average American woman’s life, she will find herself alone, whether she is divorced, widowed, single, or in a loveless, isolating relationship. And when that time comes, it is likely that she will be at a loss as to how to handle it. As a society, we have an unspoken but omnipresent belief that a woman alone is an outcast, inherently flawed in some way. In this invigorating, supportive book, psychotherapist Florence Falk aims to take the fear, doubt, confusion, and helplessness out of being a woman alone. Falk invites all women to find their own paths toward an authentic selfhood, to discover the pleasures and riches of solitude, and to reconnect with others through a newfound sense of self-confidence.
While the woman next to me on the train my have found great value in the book, I couldn’t seem to find any even in the synopsis. I don’t like self-help guides. They tend to be geared towards the helpless. I just imagine being in a bookstore and finding this next to a copy of Chicken Soup for the Soul.
In a way, the woman’s suggested reading was just like the old man who approached in the supermarket a while back and gave me the business card of a church. When I handed it back before he could get too far into his spiel, he gave a puzzled look. “Don’t you think about your salvation?” he asked me. I thought to myself, “Mister, this life is hard enough without worrying about the next one.”
And then I wondered why it was that older people only strike up conversation with me when they want to suggest some kind of self-improvement.