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Want A New You For The New Year? These Books Might Actually Help

For every episode of their podcast By the Book, Jolenta Greenberg and Kristen Meinzer live by the rules of a new self-help book.
Courtesy of Kristen Meinzer
For every episode of their podcast By the Book, Jolenta Greenberg and Kristen Meinzer live by the rules of a new self-help book.

It's the second week of 2018, and if you are still resolved to improve your life in this new year, Jolenta Greenberg and Kristen Meinzer may be able to help. They host a podcast called By The Book, and for each episode, they choose one self-help book and live by its rules for a couple of weeks. So they're well-equipped to tell us which of these books has actually improved their lives — and which ones to avoid.

On Greenberg's recommendation, The Life-Changing Magic Of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

Greenberg: I love it. I feel like especially in the New Year, it's just a real nice way to cleanse your space and make it feel kind of brand new. And I think it's something that most Americans could probably use to do. I know I could. I like buying stuff. For me, it's clothes and squirrel-related tchotchkes, and they accumulate, you know? And sometimes you might have to go through all your clothes or squirrel collection and hold each item and think about, does this really bring me joy? Or am I keeping it out of obligation? Has it already served its purpose? And to just sort of purge all of these things we let build up around us that don't necessarily make us happy anymore.

Meinzer: I think the lifestyle is absurd. It's ridiculous. You know, she cannot have anything on a counter-top. She cannot have any art on walls. If you want anything pretty, you put it inside your closet so when you open your closet you can look at your art. But anything that's out for the world to see is considered clutter. All of this is ridiculous to me and so this book made me very mad, and my husband and I, who love each other very much, fought while we were living this book, and you can hear it in our show. And it's because he got sick of the fact that every time he took a shower, he had to take the shampoo out of a separate cupboard, bring it to the shower and then afterward wipe it off, thank it, and put it in a cupboard.

On Meinzer's recommendation, America's Cheapest Family Gets You Right On The Money by Steve and Annette Economides

Meinzer: This family is amazing. They've paid off their house, their cars, all of their clothes are second-hand. They only go grocery shopping one day a month, because if you go grocery shopping more you'll be tempted to do some impulse buying, so they do one giant grocery shopping trip a month and then they make a months' worth of frozen meals and they do all sorts of wacky things like that, and I just loved it. And they have three levels of how to live their lifestyle, so even if you're a beginner, if you're not ready to go grocery shopping only one time for the whole month, maybe you can start off by going grocery shopping only once a week.

Greenberg: I feel like Kristen does, sort of, about Marie Kondo, where if you try to live the way they do — like they are crazy people. Most people who write self-help books are. They're very extreme people. They say shop once a month, and basically you only have fresh food for first week of that month, but they also say you know planning meals helps cut down on impulse purchases, which I did, you know, sort of take to heart and I try to plan meals more so when I go grocery shopping I don't just go nuts. But I do buy vegetables every week.

On the book they both advise everyone to avoid in the New Year

Greenberg: We both agree on Men are from Mars, Women Are From Venus by John Gray. ... This book, according to Time magazine, is the bestselling non-fiction book of the '90s. So my parents had this book; everyone's parent's had this book. And Kristen and I are both relative newlyweds, and I was super excited to read this book and gain some actual insights on married life. But turns out, we found it to be incredibly sexist and really condescending towards women.

Meinzer: Yeah, I mean, if you're a woman, your job is basically just to validate your man and stop nagging him so much, and not be upset when he doesn't speak to you for weeks or months at a time.

Greenberg: Don't forget "knight in shining armor," a phrase used often in this book. It's basically men have to feel like a knight in shining armor. Otherwise, like, they will leave you.

On how people should approach self-help books

Meinzer: I think they should listen to our show and hear how our lives are ruined by a lot of these books! Listen to our show and hear what parts of information work for Jolenta or work for me. So if somebody listens to the show and they know from day one, [they're] a Jolenta, they know that America's Cheapest Family Gets You Right on the Money is going to make them want to throw themselves off a bridge ... and when Jolenta is loving some aspect of a book that gives her a chance to look at her throat chakras and then light candles and rub her crystals, and I want to just punch all the crystals, people know, oh, this is a better book for Jolenta and not a good book for Kristen.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ari Shapiro
Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.