What’s A Shelf Help Book and What’s on Your Shelf-Help List?

By Melissa Brown, MD

Personal Growth Books

What’s a Shelf-Help Book?

When your self-help books decorate your shelf instead of being read, you’ve got a collection of shelf-help books doing no one any good.

I love reading. I particularly love reading personal growth and development books. These books are also known as self-help books. When I hear about a book I think I want to read, sometimes I buy it just so it’s physically in my world. That way, I don’t forget about it. It’s there to decorate my shelf before I read it.

When Self-Help Turns Into Shelf-Help

When it stays on that shelf for a long time, that’s when it becomes a shelf-help book instead of a self-help book.

Unfortunately, the number of books on my shelf-help list has grown faster than the read list. There’s an extensive number of shelf-help books sitting on my bookcase now.

I think I need an intervention.

When your self-help books decorate your shelf instead of being read, you've got a collection of shelf-help books doing no one any good. Share on X

Turning Shelf-Help Into Self-Help

In order for me to get the value out of those self-help books, I need to read them. Even though I love reading, it seems I lack the discipline to read what I’ve got before buying more.

What I need to do is make a choice of one book on my shelf right now and read it. When I’m done with that one, choose another–and continue through all my shelf-help books until I’m done.

Sound like a plan?

I just can’t help myself from putting more books on my shelf. I don’t want to miss out on a good read because it wasn’t on my list and I forgot the title. Does that sound like anyone here or am I the only one who does this?

I suppose I could create a Trello board full of titles, but it just wouldn’t be the same as having these physical books sitting on my shelf.

Hmmm, it’s sounding more and more like I need an intervention, doesn’t it? 😱

Don’t suggest I get audio or kindle books, either. Not for this genre. I love holding this type of book in my hand. It’s so much better to underline, highlight, write notes in a physical book.

How I Read Self-Help Books

In a previous article, I described my secret about how I read personal growth books. I have a technique where I write on the blank flyleaf pages in the front or the back of the book. I suppose you can look at it as a form of annotation.

As I read along, I write on the blank pages all my notes, inspirations, and the most important ah-ha points I take away while I’m reading. I include the page number where the quote is or where my creative idea was inspired, so those passages in the book can be quickly found again. In the future, I can open up the book and quickly review my most important take-aways inside the cover and first few pages. I can even find where each quote corresponds in the book’s text because I added the page numbers.

Self-Help Book Clubs

In the past, I’ve started personal development book clubs. We would read a new selection monthly and then meet to discuss what we learned from the book of the month.

Part of the reason I decided to start book clubs was my extensive collection of shelf-help books!  It held me accountable to do my monthly reading selections when I facilitated the discussion for the book of the month. I knew I would be reading one of the shelf-help books per month and this discipline worked for me.

I’ve recently introduced a book club element into my She’s Got Content coaching mastermind group I facilitate weekly. We’ve compiled a list of books that we’ll be working through this year, one month at a time. And yes, some of the selections on that list are from my shelf-help collection.

What’s On My Shelf-Help List Right Now

These are some of the books on my current shelf-help list–in no particular order. Definitely not a complete list, either 😉. Maybe you can help me get through my shelf-help list.

How You Can Help Me

Look over the list and tell me in the comments below which one you think I should read next. As I read through this shelf help list, I’ll review the books here on the blog and link to my reviews.

That will help hold me accountable, too!

Here’s my current list of shelf help books.

Atomic Habits by James Clear

Big Potential by Shawn Achor

Design Your Dream Life by Denise Walsh

Get Rich Lucky Bitch by Denise Duffield-Thomas

The Asshole Survival Guide by Robert I. Sutton

The Awakened Woman by Dr. Tererai Trent

Do Less by Kate Northrup

The Middle Finger Project by Ash Ambirge

Everything Is Figure Outable by Marie Forleo

Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes

Think Like a Stripper by Erika Lyremark

Wired For Joy by Laurel Mellin

Take The Stairs by Rory Vaden

Steal The Show by Michael Port

Captivate by Vanessa Van Edwards

What’s On Your Shelf-Help List?

Do you have shelf-help books that you’ve been meaning to read?  Like me, maybe the only ‘help’ these books are giving is to help take up space on your shelf. If you want to put these books to use, here are some ways to get through them.

Start a Book Club

Consider starting a book club to motivate yourself to get through the list and hold you accountable. It’s always fun to discuss these types of books with others. Nowadays, global book clubs are easily formed with Zoom or other conferencing platforms. And it can even be a book club of two–you and one other!

Commit, Create a Deadline, and Get Accountability

You can also make a list of your shelf-help books and a deadline for each one. Then have someone hold you accountable to read it by a designated deadline of your choosing.

Let Go Of The Shelf-Help Books

Clutter is stressful. If shelf-help is becoming clutter, take action to turn shelf-help into self-help! You have to let go of some things in order to make room for the good stuff to come into your life. Sometimes, that’s as easy as reading the books that are sitting right there on your shelf and putting their wisdom into action.

If there is no way you want to read those books taking up space on your shelf, then give them away or sell them on eBay or Marketplace. Give someone else a chance to improve their life with these books.

Share Your List and Your Vote For My Next Read

What are some shelf-help book titles you’ve got on your shelf right now? Share your titles in the comments below. Tell us why you picked up that book in the first place. I might find another title to add to my list. I’ll make a promise not to buy any new ones, though, until I start making progress through my current shelf-help list!

Don’t forget to tell me which title above I should read next–I’ll be anxiously waiting to see which book you pick for me!

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About the author

Dr. Melissa Brown's career journey has always had an element of teaching. After retirement from clinical pediatric practice, Dr. Brown has taught and mentored as a healthy lifestyle coach, author, and speaker. She currently teaches solopreneurs and coaches how to stop being the world's best-kept secret. Her mission is to help you: Create great content. Impact people. Change the world.

    • Thanks for your suggestion, Francine! The Middle Finger Project looks like a really interesting read. I love reading emails from the author, Ash Ambirge–she’s a great copywriter. I’ll definitely read it and post a review here on the blog. Thank you for stopping and commenting.

  • Hmm. I love the idea of having a book club to make sure you get through your to-read list! I have a few on my Kindle I haven’t gotten to, either. I would recommend several on your list, so can’t narrow it down to just one.

    • Thanks, Jeanine! When I was facilitating the book club at my house, it was the best thing to get through my shelf-help books since I got to pick the book each month! And it was a lot of fun since everyone brought pot luck dishes and we would have a meal. Maybe another time in the future we can go back to in-person book clubs. The silver lining, though, is that we now know how easily a global book club can come together on Zoom!

    • Thanks for those suggestions, Martha. I started Marie Forleo’s book, Everything is Figure Outable, but got distracted with a project, I think–I may just have to pick it up again now that the Ultimate Blog Challenge is over for this round! Thanks for your comment.

  • This is a really good way to address the all too common “shelf help” situation, and your book titles are inspiring! I’d be interested in reading Everything Is Figure Outable by Marie Forleo next.

  • One of the many reasons I prefer hard-copy books over Kindle editions is because my hard copies have a FAR better chance of being read and fully appreciated than my electronic books do.

    The shelf- helpers help themselves by looking pretty and catching my eye– reminding me, “Hey, it’s time to read this!”

    Since my collected Kindle books stay out of sight unless I go looking for one of them on purpose, it’s impossible to browse or be reminded in passing that “Oh, yeah, I need to read that book.”

    For me, books on a shelf are a source of beauty, joy, and comfort—even when they fall into the category of “shelf-helpers.”

    P.S. “Steal Like an Artist” by Austin Kleon is my next shelf-help read.

    • Thank you for your comment, Lane! That is exactly my thought about Kindle books–out of sight and out of mind means I will never read them! I don’t even know why I choose and download the Amazon Prime free pick each month! Ask me if I’ve read even one of them?!

      And I’ve heard about that book by Austin Kleon. I’ll have to add it to my list! Tee Hee–the list on my shelf!

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