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Self-help books get the 'tough love' treatment

Once known for gentle cheerleading and encouragement, the genre now berates readers with 'you're an idiot' messages.

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Of all the aisles in the typical American bookstore, none has expanded faster than the one devoted to self-help. But customers looking for some sage words of relationship advice or a little "you can do it!" encouragement to lose weight may be in for a shock. The motivational gurus of the Simon Cowell (of "American Idol" fame) generation are here with blunt appraisals of our personal shortcomings.

Pointed and politically incorrect titles like "He's Just Not That Into You" and "Skinny Bitch" are burning up bestseller lists and inspiring copycats. The latter, written by former model Kim Barnouin and modeling agent Rory Freedman, is now No. 1 in paperback advice books on The New York Times bestseller list. A cookbook sequel came out in December.

Experts say their popularity re­­flects a demand from young, mainly female readers for in-your-face entertainment mixed with advice. While some say this new writing style may work where traditional prose or experts have failed, others question whether this trend degrades the reader and reflects poorly on our self-centered society.

"There's this new breed of self-help book," says Terrence Real, a bestselling self-help speaker and author of "The New Rules of Marriage." "They have a very black-and-white message that appeals to some people. Whatever the overt message is, the under­­lying message is, 'You're an idiot.' "

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