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These Books Won't Change Your Life: A Guide to Literary Self-Help

Does reading make you a better person? Will fiction improve your empathy? Can great literature fix your relationship? The publishing industry seems to think so: literary appreciation as self-help is one of its most irritating recent trends. Pioneered by Alain de Botton, the genre—a first cousin to the biblio-autobigraphy,  but with Buzzfeed-worthy titles—has a new, and unlikely, entry: How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life, a conservative economist’s attempt to show how the father of capitalism offers a guide to happiness. Here’s a brief and incomplete guide to the lit crit life coach genre.

How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life by Russ Roberts

Sample Advice: “When we earn the admiration of others honestly by being respectable, honorable, blameless, generous, and kind, the end result is true happiness.”

Read if you read David Brooks columns non-ironically.

How Proust Can Change Your Life by Alain de Botton

Sample Advice: “There are few things humans are more dedicated to than unhappiness.”

Read if you have already listened to all available Ted Talks.

What W.H. Auden Can Do For You by Alexander McCall Smith

Sample Advice: “He helps us have spiritual purpose.”

Read if you're a bestselling novelist with a love of poetry.

A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught Me About Love, Friendship, and the Things That Really Matter by William Deresiewicz

Sample Advice: “You didn't have to be certain, Austen taught me, to be strong, and you didn't have to dominate people to earn their respect.”

Read if you're a callow Ivy League grad with an oversized ego.  

How To Live:  Or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer by Sarah Bakewell

Sample Advice: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

Read if you're a blogger in the middle of a life crisis.

Give War and Peace a Chance: Tolstoyan Wisdom for Troubled Times by Andrew D. Kaufman

Sample Advice: "Today’s tragedy often paves the way to tomorrow’s triumph."

Read if you're looking for something a little bit shorter than Tolstoy.

How to Be a Heroine by Samantha Ellis

Sample Advice:  “Plath wasn’t advocating suffering: she was struggling and heroically wishing for rebirth and giving her readers that possibility too.”

Read if you can't decide if you're a Bronte or an Austen.