Mini Review: How to Be Fine by Jolenta Greenberg and Kristen Meinzer 🎧

About mini reviews:

Maybe you’re not an audio book person, or maybe you are. I provide mini reviews of audio books and give a recommendation on the format. Was this book improved by a voice actor? Would a physical copy have been better? Perhaps they complement each other? Read on. . .

As podcasts become more popular, I imagine we’ll seen an uptick in podcast hosts writing books. Some translate into text, while others lose the magic of hearing another person. While I’ve never listened to By the Book, a podcast for which Jolenta Greenberg and Kristen Meinzer read a self-help book and follow the instructions for two weeks, that didn’t lessen my enjoyment of How to Be Fine: What We Learned From Living by the Rules of 50 Self-Help Books.

The authors narrate the book themselves, going back and forth in a way that made the text sound like a podcast — therefore, I recommend the audiobook. In fact, I couldn’t imagine what How to Be Fine even looked like on page if it didn’t have dialogue tags, though Hannah @ Books and Bakes recommends it. Perhaps the audiobook is altered to sound like a podcast? Both authors read clearly and insert inflections that make their personalities come across clearly.

The content is broken into three sections: what self-help advice worked, what didn’t, and what they wish authors would cover in self-help books. Greenberg and Meinzer take turns reading chapters, narrating the ones that cover more about themselves, such as when Meinzer followed French Women Don’t Get Fat and completely fell back into disordered-eating behaviors from which she suffered as a teen and young woman. Greenberg covered a chapter about comparisons and expectations when she described her pretty-princess wedding, which made her feel like a fraud because she and her now-husband had such an unconventional beginning to their relationship: years of friends with benefits and on again/off again commitment.

In fact, it was only in Greenberg’s description of why her relationship is so messed up that I regretted listening to. After she explains a transaction that I found so disgusting I went and dry-heaved in the bathroom for ten minutes, I had to chug Pepto and think happy-fluffy-bunny thoughts to get it out of my head. Had I read the text version, I would have immediately skipped Greenberg’s evidence for why her relationship is so messed up, but I didn’t — it’s an audiobook and I didn’t realize how bad it would get.

You may ask why people don’t listen to the podcast instead of reading or listening to How to be Fine. Chapters are broken into topics, like gratitude and mediation, and the authors are able to synthesize what they learned from different books and comment on one concept in the self-help community as a whole, noting where some authors got it right and where others failed. What you get is a sort of “greatest hits” of self-help instead of a detailed exploration of the maxims in one self-help tome.

Overall, I was glad I listened to How to Be Fine (other than the part of which I shall not speak). As someone who thought all self-help books are a scam, it was reassuring to hear about ways people demonstrate gratitude, kindness, and learn more about what they don’t want to do through reading books that tell them what to do. Even more interesting, the authors cover why people seek out self-help books and explore how they gained empathy by trying out the varieties of lifestyles and advice.

19 comments

  1. I loved reading your thoughts on this! I agree that it’s refreshing to hear about ways to achieve a well-balanced mental state in a way that doesn’t feel exploitative and scammy. Also YES, the “transaction” was horrifying! I forgot about it (trying to block it out of my memory??), but I do remember reading it and wondering if it was intentionally horrifying or if it was supposed to be funny?

    Also – the print book is broken up into chapters, and next to the chapter number it says who wrote that chapter. A little bit clunky at first, but I quickly got used to it. I do see how it would work better as an audiobook now that you mention it though!

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    • Thanks for bringing this one to my attention. It was nice to hear the thoughts of other women on what it means to live a good life, especially since the authors are around my age. I feel like I keep reading books for younger millennials, people in their mid- to late-twenties, and that’s not where I’m at.

      Liked by 1 person

    • The book makes clear where the chapters are, and the authors alternate who reads based on which chapters they penned, so it’s easy to know where to pause the audio. Each chapter is a different self-help book topic, too, so I can see how folks might have an easy time picking up and putting down this audio book.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. That does sound interesting but you’ve always struck me as a very resilient person so I’m not sure if THAT section would make it unreadable for me! Not to remind you of it- sorry!

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  3. Ok you’ve seriously piqued my interest about what made you dry-heave for ten minutes but I understand if it’s too painful to revisit LOL

    I find self-help books fascinating, and I do enjoy reading them, even if I get one or two things out of the whole thing I find them helpful in a basic sort of way. Although, I suppose i don’t read too many of them, just in the Fall when I’m doing research for my January self-help book segment for the radio…

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  4. I actually already have a copy of this, which I got not long after I read Hannah’s post, and skimmed parts of it. Is the part that made you dry-heave about the blackhead…? Either way, I lost motivation to read the entire thing after that scene, but since I already have it I’ll likely pick it up again and start from the start, like a normal person.

    I’ve read a number of self-help books and I find that like any genre, there’s a spectrum of them—there are self-help books that are definitely scammy (like Sharma’s 5AM Club, or Kioyosaki’s slimy Rich Dad, Poor Dad, both of which I skimmed on friends’ recommendations and DNF’ed immediately); there are some that aren’t scammy but sound impossible to execute consistently (like productivity guru Tim Ferriss), and ones that I actually find helpful (these are usually the ones with a good mix of psych research thrown in, so I may be biased). How to Be Fine sounds like they’re getting advice from the latter end of the spectrum. Self-help is also fascinating for me as an industry because of the gender divide—mostly it’s straight white men who write the books that become bestsellers, and women who buy their books. I think that’s actually an interesting insight into who’s truly helping who.

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    • Yes, that is the scene that made me dry heave! 🤢

      There is nothing else like that in the book, though. Each chapter is about a subject often covered in self-help books, so the authors will discuss many books in one chapter. I really enjoyed it other than that one scene, and was happy to read more about why self-help books work and don’t for certain types of people (the authors are quite different).

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I find it difficult to get into Podcasts for some reason. I’ve had By The Book on my “potential Podcasts I might listen to someday if I can ever figure out how to get into Podcasts” lists for a while — knowing there is a book is way more up my alley. I find self-help books intriguing. I am not typically interested in changing my own life, but I want to understand how this particular action has influenced and changed the person who is writing the book. And it often gets far too preachy for me… This is a brilliant idea.

    If I pick up this book, it’ll definitely be the audiobook format. I am very intrigued so hear what worked and didn’t work for them. But, honestly, these self-help concepts are so personal, this is also more of a human interest story. Though… I’m a bit worried about the content-which-must-not-be-discussed. Is it something I should consider skimming/skipping entirely?

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    • I think the authors have a podcast for which they read a self-help book and then lived by it for two weeks. Their podcast work has culminated in this book in which they discuss a concept in self-help, such as being more productive, and talk about several books and their effects in that chapter.

      About the part I wish I had skipped: if bodily functions and degrading oneself doesn’t bother you, then listen. If that sounds like something you could live without, pay attention to the part when Greenberg discusses her wedding and then wants to prove how messed up her relationship is. She’ll tell an anecdote, and that’s the one that made me sick.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I can definitely see how a book based off a podcast would translate well into audiobook format. I hardly ever read self-help books though having worked in bookstores, I’m pretty familiar with the popular ones!

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  7. Great review! This one hasn’t been on my radar (probably because I’m not particularly interested in self-help) but I like that the authors talk about learning what NOT to do and that they talk about why people reach for self-help books in the first place. Why people do what they do is always interesting to me, even if the things they’re doing aren’t as much!

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    • Self-help books feel so sketchy to me, like diet books for your brain. Promises that can’t be fulfilled, and if you don’t get what you want, it’s because you didn’t try hard enough, not the advice. But, this How to Be Fine demonstrated how self-help books DO work for some people, but typically because they already had a personality trait (like enjoying waking up in the morning) that already worked for them. This might be an interesting audiobook for exercising or walking.

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