How reading about self-help can change your life | The

Can a book make you a better person? The publishing industry certainly seems to think so. Physical and virtual bookshop shelves groan with guides to self-improvement and self-care, which promise to show readers how to be healthier, happier, richer, tidier, smarter, more successful and less racist. But even as the genre metastasizes, it remains stubbornly invisible to the literary establishment. As far as critics, academics and self-styled serious readers are concerned, self-help is everywhere and nowhere.

Feminize Your Canon: Fanny Fern

In 1854, one of America’s most popular newspaper columnists, the pseudonymous Fanny Fern, published “Ruth Hall: A Domestic Tale of The Present Time,” an autobiographical novel so thinly veiled as to be downright scandalous. In a preface, Fern announced that her book was “entirely at variance with all set rules for novel-writing,” eschewing an intricate plot, elaborate descriptions, and cliff-hanging suspense. Instead, the author likened herself to a casual visitor, dropping by unannounced with gossip to share—and, clearly, some scores to settle.

From 'Emma' to Natalie Portman, a dress can be worth a thousand words

When Greta Gerwig’s widely beloved “Little Women” won its sole Oscar this year for costume design, the victory for Jacqueline Durran was shadowed by frustration from fans, who thought the movie was being recognized only for its stereotypically feminine qualities. For a film that turns on its heroines’ struggles to be treated as artists, not ornaments, it could be seen as an ironic accolade. But that critique itself takes costumes at face value.

Feminize Your Canon: Mary Heaton Vorse

Our column Feminize Your Canon explores the lives of underrated and underread female authors. Originally begun by Emma Garman, it will now be written by Joanna Scutts. Mary Heaton Vorse, prolific novelist, journalist, and labor activist, spent most of her long life trying to escape her upper-middle-class origins. The heroine of her 1918 novel ’ calls the inescapability of a bourgeois upbringing life’s “blue serge lining”—a reference to the practical fabric that protected the inside of coats.

The Radical Roots of Emma Watson’s ‘Self-Partnership’

Most reactions to Watson’s “self-partnering” framed it as a slightly silly term for a personal choice. But it’s more than that. In her Vogue interview, Watson pointed to the “bloody influx of subliminal messaging” — in advertising, media, and society at large — telling women they are incomplete by themselves. This messaging is deliberate and well-entrenched: As much as we like to pretend otherwise, we haven’t yet fully exorcised the patriarchal ghosts that peg a woman’s existence to that of her father or husband. To overtly reject this — to, yes, “self-partner” — is, quietly, a radical act.

The Women Who Showed Us Life

At the entrance to the new exhibition at the New-York Historical Society’s Center for Women’s History looms a photograph that is oddly abstract and resolutely concrete, a row of conical towers forming part of the hulking Fort Peck Dam in Montana. The photograph covered the first issue of LIFE in 1936 and was captured by Margaret Bourke-White, the first and best known of the handful of female photojournalists on the magazine’s staff.

History—and a Glimmer of Hope—in a Whiskey Glass

JUST AFTER FIVE O’CLOCK in the morning on April 18, 1906, what came to be known as the San Francisco earthquake trembled down the coast from southern Oregon to Los Angeles and inland as far as Nevada. “Rumors of great disaster from an earthquake in San Francisco, but know nothing of real facts,” President Roosevelt wrote anxiously to the Governor of California, eager for some solid ground to stand upon. There was no reply.

Helen Gurley Brown's Quest for Glamour, Sex and Power

What would Helen Gurley Brown, determined fabricator of her own life story, have made of Enter Helen, a new biography by Brooke Hauser that takes an affectionate but unvarnished look at her long tenure as editor of Cosmopolitan magazine? She’d have loved it, declared Barbara Hustedt Crook, one of HGB’s original Cosmo staffers, at an event last night to celebrate the book and its subject, at Brooklyn’s Powerhouse Arena. “She never liked a puff piece – and she liked a zippy read.”
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