LOOK, UNLESS YOU’RE WRITING ONE, A SELF-HELP book is an oxymoron. You read a self-help book so someone who isn’t yourself can help you, that someone being the author. This is true of the whole self-help genre. It’s true of how-to books, for example. And it’s true of personal improvement books too. […] None of the foregoing means self-help books are useless. On the contrary, they can be useful indeed. But it does mean that the idea of self in the land of self-help is a slippery one. And slippery can be good. Slippery can be pleasurable. Slippery can provide access to what would chafe if entered dry.
In the interview, Hamid talks more about what he learned from writing in the self-help format:
…what I liked about the self-help book form was I started to realize that in a way I actually do write novels to help myself. You know, I sit by myself in a room for several years, which isn’t a normal thing to do, and out of it comes a novel. So there is some degree of self-help just in writing a novel. But also when I read a novel, I feel like there is a kind of self-help going on there too, that I’m going beyond myself, transcending myself, I’m encountering another consciousness, I’m leaving the place where I am.
To repeat Josh Shenk, writing is self-help, because “we’re writing to help ourselves.”