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February 17, 2014

Book Notes - Jessica Lamb-Shapiro "Promise Land"

Promise Land

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Myla Goldberg, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Jessica Lamb-Shapiro's Promise Land is both memoir and exploration of self-help culture. Lamb-Shapiro's wit and storytelling talent shines throughout this insightful and highly entertaining book.

Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:

"A sincere and hilarious picture of the personalities and ideas found in this field of self-promotion and discovery. . . . Lamb-Shapiro's journey through self-help culture fascinates and entertains, and as much as it also serves as a quasi-memoir, it excels."

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.

In her own words, here is Jessica Lamb-Shapiro's Book Notes music playlist for her memoir, Promise Land:


My book Promise Land: My Journey Through America's Self-Help Culture looks at our obsession with self-help, the history of self-help, and my relationship with my father, a self-help writer and child psychologist. I also talk how my father and I managed to avoid the topic of my mother's death for thirty years.

Some of the songs here were mentioned in the book, and some are more on the general theme of self-help. Or just help. And a few are songs that I listened to while driving with my dad. We spent a lot of time in the car.


Theme song from Rocky

At a workshop for aspiring self-help writers with my dad, a famous self-help author told us an inspirational story about Rocky. Sylvester Stallone wrote Rocky in only 3 days. He sold it for nothing on the condition that he could play the lead (they'd wanted to cast Robert Redford). David killed Goliath with only one stone (not about Rocky, but same idea). Then he made us sing the theme song to Rocky. Some people sang Eye of the Tiger instead. It didn't sound good. Still: the theme song from Rocky reaches the inspirational soundtrack zenith.

"We Are Family" – Sister Sledge

Not just for weddings and bar-mitzvahs, this song was a popular choice among aspiring self-help writers. Every time the famous self-help author introduced a guest this song would play and then the famous self-help author and the guest would embrace, family-style.

"Do The Rules" – Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider

A rap song written by two extremely white upper-middle-class ladies who wrote The Rules, a self-help book on how to land a husband. In Promise Land I attend a class taught by one of the authors, during which a woman named Betsy proclaimed "I am the ultimate Rules girl because I got married twice in one year!" If this isn't the worst song ever written, it's certainly the worst I've ever heard. Not even redeemable in an ironic way. I'm sorry for putting this on the list. If you haven't turned against me already, you should turn against me now.

"Don't Worry, Be Happy" - Bobby McFerrin

My dad used to love this song. Seems appropriate to a book about self-help. Also good advice (unless you should be worried about something).

"Help!" – The Beatles

What's better than self-help? Help. From other humans. "When I was younger, so much younger than today/I never needed any help in any way. But now those days are gone, I'm not so self-assured/Now I find I changed my mind and opened up the door."

"You Say He's Just A Friend" – Biz Markie

Nothing to do with self-help, but when I was in high school my dad and I used to love this song. Whenever it would come on the radio, we would sing along. Before long, I bought the cassingle (sadly defunct neologism for "cassette single"). My dad would pronounce the chorus, "Just a Fwend." We both found this riotously funny. Maybe you had to be there.

"Help Yourself" - Tom Jones

"Help yourself to my lips," sings Tom Jones. I also suggesting helping your eyes to the video of this song on YouTube that features men in nude bodysuits doing a vigorous interpretative dance. A bit like a nightmare I once had.

"Help Is On Its Way" – Little River Band

A classic.

"Heaven Help Us All" - Stevie Wonder

If my book were a movie, and there were movie credits, this is the song that would play as the credits rolled.


Jessica Lamb-Shapiro and Promise Land links:

the book's website
excerpt from the book

Biographile review
Chicago Tribune review
Elle review
Kirkus review
New York Times review
Publishers Weekly review
Salon review

CBC Radio interview with the author
Fresh Air interview with the author
The Leonard Lopate Show interview with the author
New York Magazine interview with the author
Wall Street Journal profile of the author


also at Largehearted Boy:

Book Notes (2012 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

Online "Best of 2013" Book Lists
2013 Year-End Online Music Lists

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists


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