3 Self-Help Books That Won’t Make You Gag

Let’s be real: It’s hard not to roll your eyes at the very topic of self-help books. So many of them are treacly at best, filled with the sort of one-size-fits-all advice you grew up seeing on posters in middle school guidance counselors’ offices.

After working at Oprah.com for a few years, I felt like I’d seen it all. Books of every variety crossed my desk, but I soon learned there’s a select few that are absolutely worth your time. They’re often business or psychology books, written by professors and laden with research to back up their anecdotal experiences.

This fall, two books have totally bucked that trend — and I still recommend them to everyone I know. The first are more memoir than anything else, but the authors peel back every layer of their experience, provided the raw, unfiltered truth (and the lessons gleaned in hindsight later), that I couldn’t get enough of them.

If you’re looking for something to read over the next few months, try one of these.

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Celebrate Your Roots

New York’s one of those cities people dream of living in someday. Not me. I never planned to move there, let alone live there more than a year, and yet, almost seven later, it’s the place I call home. During those first three years, I had a love-hate (but mostly, overwhelmingly hate) relationship with the five boroughs, and then, one day, we hit an understanding. Yes, it’s bitterly cold in the winter, and the people can often be brusque and moody, but it’s a lively place, brimming with ambition and the resources to make it happen.

While New York is currently home for me, Florida’s just as much “home” too. As Nate jokes, home is wherever you’re not — as in, I’ll always say I’m heading home whether I’m in the Southeast or the Northeast. Either way, I take pride in my home state, even if it is, quite possibly, the most bizarre place in the U.S.

Right now, there’s a trend toward celebrating your roots with simple jewelry and understated tees that runs counter to the traditional souvenir kitsch (though, let’s be honest: I love kitsch). I’ve rounded up a few of my favorites, in case they inspire you to show off your home state pride wherever you happen to be.

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The Home T, $32 (You can find even more options here, including the Florida “y’all” tee shown at the top of this post.)

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Vintage map, $49-$139 (depending on size)

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Bar necklace, $24-$56 (depending on metal and other customization options)

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Cutting board, $19

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“Home Is Wherever I’m with You” tote, $9

Astoria’s Not-So-Well-Kept Secret Speakeasy

It looks just like any run-down, probably-thrived-in-the-’70s hardware store. You’ve got your questionably out of date cleaning solutions in the front window, the pegboard displays, the old-school gummy sticker price tags haphazardly tagged on every hammer, screwdriver and tube of caulk shown.

But then you realize it doesn’t open until 5:30 p.m.

What is this, some not-too-subtle New York drug front?!

This hardware store is really a cocktail bar. You've got to see inside.
Photo: Candace Braun Davison

Nah. It’s just another bougie, semi-secret speakeasy. And you’re going to love it. At least if you’re a sucker for kitsch and a good theme, like me.

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Frontiers: 6 Places You Need to Visit in the Florida Keys

Despite being born and raised in Florida, I’d never been to the Keys. I’d been to Miami a few times, but never made the 4-hour drive to Key West (or even the hour and a half to Key Largo). That all changed this summer, and after spending a few days there, I can’t understand what took me so long to go. I mean, really. The water is unbelievably crystal blue — so blue you’d swear someone’s filtered the heck out of it if you saw a pic on Instagram.

The Best Places to Visit in the Florida Keys: Islamorada
Photos: Candace Braun Davison

It’s got everything you’d want from a tropical vacation, without having to fly halfway around the world. If you get the chance to go, GO. Don’t waste a second debating it. Don’t begrudge the long drive from Miami International Airport, or even the road trip from wherever you happen to live, if hopping in a plane isn’t your thing. Just go. You won’t be disappointed.

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What You Need to Know About Oprah’s Latest Book Club Pick

If you cringe when people start telling painfully honest truths — if their honesty and their rawness makes you want to change topics, STAT — Glennon Doyle Melton’s latest book, Love Warrior, isn’t for you. But you should probably read it more than anyone.

The Momastery blogger has never shied away from getting vulnerable, bearing her scars — and the lessons learned from them — for the world to see, and in this memoir, she chronicles what happened after publishing her best-selling first book, Carry On, Warrior, when her husband told her he’d been cheating on her, and she found herself at a crossroads: Could she ever trust him — or any man — again? What would this mean for her kids? Her sense of family? Security? Love?

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Toasted Coconut & Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies

Chocolate chip cookies are my go-to “feel productive” project. Whenever I’m spinning my wheels or feeling stuck on an issue, I take a break to pull out flour, butter, sugar and eggs, and get mixing. Oatmeal chocolate chip are my specialty — largely because they’re my husband Nate’s favorite, and because I continually try to trick myself into thinking the oats make them healthier (more fiber or something, right?!) — but I can’t help dabbling with the basic recipe, mixing in whatever’s in the pantry to create new riffs on the classic.

Toasted Coconut Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough

Cinnamon adds a little spice to the cookie itself. Dried cherries give it a tartness to offset all the sweet. An Oreo stuffed inside creates a gooey, ultra-decadent core. Hershey’s Kisses are a chocoholic’s twist on Peanut Butter Blossoms. By far, though, my favorite spin right now is toasted coconut.

Best Toasted Coconut Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe

I had toasted an entire bag of unsweetened coconut flakes to go with a batch of pina colada “nice cream,” a dairy-free dessert. There was plenty leftover after the cookout, so I poured half a cup into my classic oatmeal chocolate chip dough. Jackpot! If you like Samoas, you’ll go crazy for these. (A drizzle of caramel would make them an excellent stand-in for the Girl Scout cookie, actually.)

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Little, Invisible Decisions That Can Erode a Relationship

The first time someone suggested deleting an Instagram post because it’d been 10 minutes and only a handful of people had liked it, I scoffed. How could you care that much what other people think of you? Why do you even pay attention to how many likes you’re getting anyway? I wondered.

Today, I completely understand the temptation; the desire, not only to present your very best, highlights-reel version of yourself to the world, but to get addicted, at times, to the follower counts, the likes, the shares, the little badges of honor, saying “you’re worthy” as the number climbs.

It’s a phenomenon Shauna Niequist touches on — albeit indirectly — in an essay from her new book, Present Over Perfect. In it, she describes a man who has an incredible knack for connecting with people, making them feel loved almost instantly. That very gift cost him his marriage and relationship with his kids, not because of some sordid affair, but because he simply couldn’t be there for them. He got addicted to the quick fix of making people feel important for a few fleeting minutes, and he’d gotten so used to giving the best of himself to his 9-to-5 that he didn’t have the time (or energy) to invest so heavily in his own family. When he was off the clock, he checked out of being a caring, supportive human being, leaving only a distracted shell behind, it seemed. Eventually, his family left him, feeling unloved and unneeded.

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Diner en Blanc: Pop-Up Picnics That Will Make Your Summer

Wearing all white to a dinner party seems like something only friends of P. Diddy — or people in a detergent commercial — would do, but Diner en Blanc makes an incredibly compelling case for busting out your brights. The organization hosts secret, pop-up dinner parties in major cities across the country, letting you know its location just hours before the big event.

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Photos: Candace Braun Davison

You buy tickets and agree to the dress code (head-to-toe white, or as much as you can muster); they provide the entertainment, usually in the form of a live band and/or DJ, the tables and chairs. The party itself is more of a potluck — groups of people will haul coolers, plates and over-the-top table decorations, creating over-the-top tablescapes that’d make Sandra Lee proud.

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In Defense of ‘Ghostbusters’

If you mention the new Ghostbusters movie to a group of people, you’re likely to immediately get some grumbling.  It’s the most disliked trailer on YouTube, and while the common refrain online is that it’s because people can’t stand the thought of an all-female Ghostbusters squad, the rationale I’m hearing most often is: “I don’t want to see it because it will ruin my childhood.”

That’s often followed by citing previous reboots-gone-wrong: Transformers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (for those who can’t stand Michael Bay flicks), Star TrekG.I. Joe. The thing is, would you really want a movie that exactly replicates the series you loved as a child, repeating it to a T? It’d be boring, and the jokes would probably fall flat. Having women in the lead roles, and all-new Ghostbusters in general, takes the concept you love, imagining it in a whole new way. What would happen if four different people, with their thoughts/feelings/idiosyncracies, had to throwdown against some Ectoplasm-spewing spectres?

What you need to know about the new Ghostbusters movie - Photo: Columbia Pictures
Photos: Columbia Pictures

If you can accept a different Batman every five years, you can give these Ghostbusters a chance. And it’s really only your gain if you do. The movie pokes fun at itself and its characters, and that self-awareness only adds to its charm. It doesn’t try to be serious, or unseat the original film; it does its own thing, and it does it remarkably well.

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Pokemon Go Is the New Geocaching

Every few feet, I spot one. Or rather, I spot a gaggle, as they often travel in small groups. At first, you might dismiss them as any other person too obsessed with their phones, heads and shoulders stooped, eyes staring intently at that 4-inch screen. Their hands give it away though. They often hover their index fingers over the screen, flicking every once in a while, like they’re playing digital shuffleboard, and their finger’s the cue.

That, and they’re often heard muttering things like, “I almost had him!” or “Another friggin’ Weedle?! Nobody wants another Weedle!” Or, as the ultimate tell, they’re humming “Gotta Catch ‘Em All.”

Pokemon Go players have taken over New York City faster than the “Harlem Shake” in 2012, and it’s showing no signs of stopping. And I’m perfectly okay with that.

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