11 Novels You Can Use As Self-Help Books

The self-help aisle of the bookstore maybe, in fact, be the loneliest. Or at least the one to which no one wants to admit spending time. And hey, that's fine if you don't want to go there, either — but what's a girl to do when she needs some help? Look to her own bookshelf, that's what. The following works of fiction offer much more than entertainment value — they offer valuable life lessons. Warning: Spoiler alerts for books more than a century old.

'Crime and Punishment' by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Our friend Raskolnikov has it all figured out. He’s going to murder the old shrew Alyona Ivanova, take her money, and lift his family out of poverty. It will be totally not a huge deal. Murder is justifiable sometimes, right? Something something Napoleon something.

Only ‘lil Rasky should have thought about what would actually happen after pulling a lumberjack and chopping Alyona’s head with an axe. Namely, that he was in for a world of hurt. Fevers, delirium, mental turmoil, crippling guilt. He thinks he’s prepared to be a murderer, but once the reality of his actions hit him, he freaks harder than that girl who found out she couldn’t order McNuggets for breakfast.

Life lesson: Think about the consequences of your actions. Think hard. Even if you’re convinced you’re right. Just think one more time after that.

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'The Secret History' by Donna Tartt

Donna Tartt’s 1992 novel concerns a California misfit who moves to Vermont, enrolls at the fictional Hampden College and starts studying ancient Greek with a crew of wealthy, glamorous, seductive, intelligent people. Those people gradually draw said misfit into their cultish existence. Then a murder happens. And it’s entirely this particular crew’s fault. And the misfit is very much embroiled in their murder-related imbroglio. Had he stayed a loner or made some nice, non-murderous friends, he’d have avoided the whole catastrophe and spent his time studying and partying like a normal college student rather than dodging a police investigation.

Life lesson: Choose your friends wisely. Beware of surrounding yourself with people who do things like lie, cheat, and murder innocent farmers.

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'1Q84' by Haruki Murakami

Aomame, Haruki Murakami’s latest kick-ass female character in a long line of them, has a problem. While the rest of Tokyo enjoys themselves in the year 1984, Aomame believes that she’s actually living in 1Q84, an alternate reality in which there are two moons in the sky and the things that she once took for granted no longer exist. All it takes is a quick trip down an emergency stairwell on the freeway, and Aomame’s whole world changes — just because she believes it has changed.

Life lesson: You create your own reality. Be the change you wish to see in the world! Just don’t be surprised if people are weirded out when you tell them this.

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'The Lovely Bones' by Alice Sebold

Jack Salmon knew it all along: the creepy neighbor murdered Jack’s daughter Susie. Poor Jack. He guesses correctly almost immediately after Susie’s body was found. After all, the murderer was a 36-year-old man who built doll houses for a living: Sketchy Town, population one. There’s even a koan for Jack’s situation brought up by Susie’s classmate’s mother: “A father’s suspicion is as powerful as a mother’s intuition.” It takes an unfortunate incident with a baseball bat and a cornfield before anyone got on the same page. But Jack is right in the end, albeit a little too late.

Life lesson: Trust your instincts. Also, holy murder alert, Batman! Does the homicide rate in novels mimic that of real life?

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'The Baby-Sitters Club' by Ann M. Martin

The members of this illustrious childcare institution have ironclad identities. Kristi is either an entrepreneurial spirit or a Type A nightmare, depending on how you see it. Claudia is artsy and every style blogger’s (fictional) dream. Mary Anne is nice and boring and has good handwriting. Dawn is cool and California. Stacey is sophisticated and good at math. Mallory and Jessie are, um, youthful. These details are hammered into our brains over and over, book after book.

But the repetition of personality traits is exactly what makes these characters so freaking endurable, even almost 30 years after the first Baby-Sitters Club book came out. The more something is repeated, the better it sticks in your identity. Complex, hard-to-describe characters fade away; we cherish these enterprising young ladies because they can each be summed up in just a few words.

Life lesson: Be yourself. Over and over again.

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'Richard II/Henry IV/Henry V' by Shakespeare

Shakespeare’s tetralogy surrounding the rise and fall of a succession of English kings illustrates something that should be fairly obvious: Absolute power can make you act like an absolute douchebag. No wonder Lorde doesn’t want to be a royal— royals get so caught up in power-grabs and bloody battles that they can’t even take time to smell the roses and enjoy the roast beef.

Life lesson: Lean in, but do it with caution — and at your own risk.

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'The House of Mirth' by Edith Wharton

Lily Barton wants a nice life. To paraphrase Britney Spears, she wants to live fancy, live in a big mansion, party in France, and drive a Maserati. Okay, so Maserati wasn’t founded until a decade after Edith Wharton published the novel, but work with me.

Lily wants the good life, but she keeps waffling between the finer things and romance. She loses her true love, keeps striving for luxury, loses all of her friends, gets herself involved in some unsavory scandals, and ends up broke and sad, working at a milliner’s shop. And girl can’t sew a hat to save her damn life. Had she pursued a less luxe life, she might have been slightly happier, and she definitely wouldn’t have had to craft a bunch of misshapen fedoras.

Life lesson: Money isn’t everything. Also, play to your strengths; if you’re a bad hat-maker, maybe try something else.

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'A Visit From The Goon Squad' by Jennifer Egan

Time marches on, whether we like it or not. Young rock stars get old, record labels start as titans and shrivel into shells of their former selves, things that were once cool go out of fashion, and that stories are told first in books transition to PowerPoint presentations, then move to vowel-less txt spk. Jennifer Egan tracks the often depressing passage of time with a series of interlocking stories, all fueled by music.

Life lesson: Life sucks, but listening to music makes it suck less.

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'The Middlesteins' by Jami Attenberg

Edie Middlestein is the matriarch of the Middlestein family, sitting atop a pyramid of troubles. Her husband’s fidelity expires, her children are damaged in small but significant ways, her grandchildren rebel in predictable and precocious ways. But Edie lives in the heart of the Middlestein drama and decay, and the way in which she responds to familial stress may have very well caused the strain in the first place: She eats. She eats far too much. She is eating herself, slowly but surely, to death.

Author Jami Attenberg subtly and sensitively reveals Edie’s overeating as both her solution and her problem. The scene during which Edie leaves her family to eat her McDonald’s meal in a corner of the restaurant alone is especially painful — never has so much pathos been assigned to a McRib sandwich. It’s devastating to watch Edie completely lose control.

Life lesson: Self-medication is a dangerous thing.

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'The Sorrows of Young Werther' by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

This one’s pretty much a no brainer. Werther loves Lotte. Lotte doesn’t love Werther. Werther is sorrowful. Werther offs himself. End scene.Life lesson: If you’re feeling blue over unrequited love, talk to a friend, talk to a therapist, get some exercise, meditate, medicate (within reason) — just don’t end it all! Please?

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'American Psycho' by Bret Easton Ellis

Patrick Bates has to be the most unchill bro in literature. Not just because he’s a psycho killer who offs people in gruesome ways — though that’s obviously a problem — but because he lets the little stuff get to him. If someone has cooler glasses, or better hair, or a newer suit, he notices, feels horribly inadequate, internalizes the inadequacy, then acts a fool.

A normal person who can’t wrangle a reservation at Dorsia wouldn’t lose her mind over it. A normal person who compares her business card with a rival’s wouldn’t start shaking and sweating when she realizes their rival picked a better font and sprung for the watermark. A normal person wouldn’t take this rivalry as an excuse to kill the rival and eliminate her competition. Bateman does all these things, and for that, he is profoundly unchill, and possibly the worst role model a novel has ever produced—and thus, an excellent walking self-help book.

Life lesson: Don’t sweat the small stuff. Also, don’t murder people.

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