Book Review: How To Be Fine

I had to take a break from the Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist. I normally alternate between reading fiction and non-fiction books, so after six novels in a row from the WP longlist, my brain was craving something other than literary fiction. How To Be Fine seemed like the perfect book for the occasion. Written by the co-hosts of the By The Book podcast, How To Be Fine is a reflection on the authors’ experiences living by the rules of various self-help books.

The book: How To Be Fine by Jolenta Greenberg & Kristen Meinzer
Genre: Non-fiction/self-help
Rating: 4 stars out of 5

On a technical level, How To Be Fine is very readable. The writing style is casual to the point that it sometimes feels like hearing a story from a close friend. As a fan of the podcast that inspired How To Be Fine, this writing style worked for me – but if I had picked up this book without ever having listened to an episode of By The Book, I might have found the writing underwhelming.

Structurally, the book is easy-to-follow. It is divided into three sections: what self-help advice worked for Kristen and Jolenta, what didn’t work, and the topics that they wish more self-help books covered. My favorite insights from the first section were Kristen’s philosophy that being an optimist and being an activist actually go hand in hand (she argues that as an optimist, she is hopeful that her activism will amount to something), and the exploration of what a good, meaningful apology entails. Despite containing interesting insights, though, I felt that the first section of the book was bit too long (Kristen and Jolenta detail 13 pieces of advice from self-help books that improved their lives, when 8-10 probably would have sufficed).

In the second and third sections (what didn’t work, and what the authors wish more self-helps books talked about), How To Be Fine really shines. In the section on what advice didn’t improve their lives – or in some cases actually had detrimental effects – Kristen and Jolenta explore how some books written under the guise of self-help seem more like covert marketing tools for authors trying to become famous “lifestyle gurus,” and how the term “self-help” has unfortunately been co-opted by influencers and consumerism. In the section on what advice they wish more self-help books included, Kristen and Jolenta talk about body positivity, acknowledging and accepting all of one’s feelings (even anger, which many self-help books apparently demonize), and the benefits of seeing a therapist. I thought that both the second and third sections provided excellent commentary on the limitations of self-help books, and that the third section nicely complemented the second by offering healthy alternatives to some of the unhelpful – or even toxic – advice that is perpetuated under the label of “self-help.”

Another thing that I appreciated in How To Be Fine was the authors’ transparency. Both Kristen and Jolenta seem to present themselves in all of their complexity. From eating disorders to financial struggles to cruel and unsupportive family members, neither Kristen nor Jolenta pretends to “have it all figured out” or be perfect. Because the authors present themselves in a way that seems authentic, their advice also comes across as genuine.

Overall, I really enjoyed How To Be Fine. The book is a quick and easy read that strikes a surprisingly nice balance between praise and criticism of self-help books. Additionally, the authors present themselves in a way that feels authentic and responsible (although I am likely biased by the fact that I listen to the authors’ podcast, which inspired this book). This book was the exact type of fun – yet not superficial – read that my brain needed after six literary fiction novels in a row.

Author: Hannah Celeste

Hi! I'm Hannah, a book-blogger from the Northeastern United States. I enjoy reading many genres, cooking and baking, doing yoga, and spending time with my two cats.

19 thoughts on “Book Review: How To Be Fine”

  1. Great review! I have definitely been resistant to self-help books in the past, often not knowing where to start & finding it all a bit baffling, but I like how you describe this book as putting a critical lens on these narratives and examining what worked and what didn’t. Interesting too when they cause more harm than good & profit off the obsession with wellness culture for personal gain – something that seems to be happening more and more. I’ll have to give the podcast a listen!

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  2. This is on my TBR so I’m glad you liked this! I didn’t know they had a podcast (was it in the synopsis? Maybe I didn’t read it too closely). The second half sounds especially promising. I have a love-hate relationship with self-help and am sometimes more interested in dissecting it as an industry than I am in actually applying anything. It’s just so interesting! Definitely bumping this up now.

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    1. Thank you! Since you’re interested in putting a critical eye on the self-help industry (btw – so wild that self-help has become an “industry”), I think you’ll enjoy the 2nd and 3rd parts of the book! I hope that you like it! I’m curious to see how the book holds up to readers who found the book not through the podcast.

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  3. Hello! I found your blog through Gil’s blog and thought I would check it out. This book sounds like something I need, and based on the authors’ background as podcasters, I’m going to see if I can find an audiobook. Ever since I read Barbara Ehrenrich’s book Bright-sided, which is about how positive thinking is detrimental to people, I’ve been very skeptical of any self-help books. Also, anyone who purports to be a lifestyle guru kinda makes me wanna throw up. The hubris needed to believe that one person has it all figured out in a way that allows them to tell others how to live…. I can’t even.

    Melanie @ grabthelapels.com

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    1. I hope you enjoy the book! I agree with you 100% about “lifestyle gurus.” It’s just so egotistical to assume that what worked for ONE person can be applied successfully to everybody else. The book touches on this a lot in the 2nd and 3rd sections, so I think you’ll like it! Also, Barbara Ehrenreich’s books have been on my TBR forever – going to bump some of them up now!!

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      1. Some of Ehrenreich’s books are not great. Her most famous is Nickel and Dimed, which is interesting but a little dated. I found Bright-sided to be intriguing, as she comes at the topic from both a journalist’s perspective and as someone who had and beat breast cancer, which is a group of folks who are told that if they don’t think positively, their cancer won’t go away.

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