Promise Land

My Journey through America’s Self-Help Culture

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“In writing this book I walked on hot coals, met a man making a weight-loss robot, joined a Healing Circle, and faced my debilitating fear of flying. Of all of these things, talking to my father about my mother’s death was by far the hardest.”

The daughter of a widowed child psychologist and parenting author, Jessica Lamb-Shapiro grew up immersed in the culture of self-help, of books and pamphlets and board games and gadgets and endless jargon-filled conversations about feelings. It wasn’t until she hit her thirties that Jessica began to wonder: if all this self-improvement arcana was as helpful as it promised to be, why wasn’t she better adjusted? She had a flying phobia, hadn’t settled down, and didn’t like to talk about her feelings.

Thus began Jessica’s fascination with the eccentric and labyrinthine world of self-help. She read hundreds of books and articles, attended dating seminars, walked on hot coals, and attempted to conquer her fear of flying. But even as she made light of the sometimes dubious effectiveness of these as-seen-on-TV treatments, she slowly began to realize she was circling a much larger problem: her mother’s death when she was a toddler, and the almost complete silence that she and her father had always observed on the subject.

In the tradition of Augusten Burroughs, Jessica Lamb-Shapiro illuminates the peculiar neuroses and inalterable truths that bind families together, whether they choose to confront them or not. Promise Land is a tender, witty, and wise account of a young woman’s journey through her own psyche toward the most difficult stage of grown-up emotional life: acceptance.
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  • Simon & Schuster | 
  • 240 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781439100196 | 
  • January 2014
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Video

Jessica Lamb-Shapiro: What Are You Reading?

Jessica Lamb-Shaprio on being inspired by the generosity that Far from the Tree author Andrew Solomon shows to his subjects.

Read an Excerpt

Promise Land PROLOGUE ON MISSING THE OBVIOUS
Ten years ago, I tagged along with my father to a weekend conference on how to write self-help books. The conference headliner, Mark Victor Hansen, coauthored Chicken Soup for the Soul, one of the most popular and prolific self-help series of the twentieth century, and my father hoped to learn the secrets of his success. A child psychologist by training, my father had been writing self-help books for parents and children for over thirty years, but he had never created a... see more

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