If your summer reading list does not include "Hot Monogamy," which purports to detail "Essential Steps to More Passionate, Intimate Lovemaking," you may well be the selfish, unmotivated jerk everyone always suspected you were.
On the other hand, it could mean you're far too well-adjusted to be trolling the self-help section with the rest of the neurotic riff-raff. Or you may simply feel uncomfortable breaking out a self-help book at the beach in front of that 80-year-old accordian-playing grandfather of yours -- especially if the book deals with all manner of sweaty coupling, as does "Hot Monogamy" by the aptly named Dr. Patricia Love and Jo Robinson (Dutton, $21.95).
Anyway, someone's reading this stuff. Publishers Weekly lists four self-help titles among its top 10 paperback best sellers. At the huge Borders bookstore in Towson, of the 150,000 books on display, there are some 2,600 self-help titles this summer that deal with everything from how to ditch that alley-cat boyfriend of yours to "How Would Confucius Ask For a Raise?" by Carol Orsborn (Morrow, $23), which boasts: "One Hundred Enlightened Solutions for Tough Business Problems."
"They're very steady sellers for us, no matter the season," says Borders community relations coordinator Chris Brenchley. "The same audience watching TV talk shows like 'Oprah Winfrey' is buying the self-help books."
This, of course, is a frightening thought: The idea that the person next to you browsing through a book on one's Inner Child was stuffing his fat, orange-stained fingers in a Cheetos bag hours earlier while watching a panel of disgruntled transsexuals bicker on "Geraldo!"
As for exactly what's out there on the self-help shelves, the dominant themes seem to be: improving your sex life, striking it rich, repairing damaged relationships, improving your sex life, shoring up your self-esteem and improving your sex life.
For openers, let's examine a few books that deal with, oh, improving your sex life.
Assuming you got past "Hot Monogamy" without popping any major blood vessels in your forehead, there's "How To Drive Your Woman Wild in Bed" by Graham Masterton (Signet, $5.99), which promises to divulge, among other secrets:
* "7 yummy rules of good lovership."
* "10 great all-time turn-ons . . ."
* "5 head-to-toe kissing excursions you never thought of before."
Well. Seeing as how my last excursion was only to Glen Burnie, this definitely promises to be a page-turner.
"The Sexiest Sex of All" by Alexandra Penney (DTP, $8.95) boasts of "arousing but comfortable new positions," which, judging by the athleticism involved, would eventually land the average person on a hospital gurney.
There's also "Light His Fire" by Ellen Kriedman (Dell, $4.99) with this dubious chapter: "Baby talk and pet names come out of the closet." I don't know . . . do a lot of guys really get revved up when they're called "Pooh Bear?"
Relationships are also very big in the self-help book genre. "Single Again: Dating and Meeting New Friends the Second Time Around" by George Blake (R&E; Publishers, $9.95) includes this intriguing section: "Meeting on Cruises, in Supermarkets and in Nudist Camps."
The idea apparently being that, hey, whether you're poolside on the QE2, pawing a rump roast at the Giant, or working up a sweat with a little clothing-free volleyball, Mr. or Ms. Right could be right around the corner. Ain't love grand?
"Stop! You're Driving Me Crazy," by Dr. George R. Bach and Ronald M. Deutsch (Berkley, $4.50) reads like a manual for dealing with schizophrenics, as it advises on such burning topics as:
* "Your girlfriend gets you excited, then tells you she's gone off the Pill."
* "Your husband stirs up a screaming fight, then wants to make passionate love."
While some people might whack the offending clod with a 2-by-4, Bach and Deutsch wimp out and insist on finding ways to (yawn) defuse the situation.
For those women who don't already feel bad about themselves,
there's "Ten Stupid Things Women Do To Mess Up Their Lives," by Dr. Laura Schlessinger (Villard, $19.95).
If nothing else, the book wins the award for the longest chapter heading in history: "Ohhh, Ahhh, We're Breathing Hard . . . It Must Be Love. You have sex too soon, too romantically, and set yourself up to be burned."
"50 Ways to Find a Lover" by Sharyn Wolf (Bob Adams Inc., $7.95) begins unpromisingly with the first chapter: "Carry a Conversation Piece." I kept envisioning a man working a singles bar with one of those pine tree air fresheners dangling from his neck.
"1001 Ways To Be Romantic" by Gregory J.P. Godek (Casablanca, $11.95) goes hum-drum in a hurry (tip No. 99: "Hire a pianist to play during dinner at home") and quickly bottoms out before the midway point (No. 320: Mail him a pack of matches. Attach a note: 'I'm hot for you.' ") I'd send a note back: "You need professional help."
There are also countless how-to guides for jacking up one's self-esteem. "I Could Do Anything If Only I Knew What It Was" is the confusing title of Barbara Sher's book (Delacorte, $19.95). Which left at least one reader (this one) thinking: "I would read this if I only knew what the heck they were talking about."
"Healing Your Aloneness: Finding Love and Wholeness Through Your Inner Child" is the equally turgid title of a book by Erika Chopich and Margaret Paul (HarperCollins, $9.95), which both me and my Inner Child found mystifying.
Then there is "Handbook to Higher Consciousness" by Ken Keyes Jr. (Love Line, $8.95). The back cover notes that: "Ken Keyes Jr. is the founder of the Science of Happiness and the Ken Keyes College."
There is no mention of where the Ken Keyes College is, or how the football team did last season.
When my Inner Child finishes high school, maybe I'll send him there.