Reading for Pleasure vs Reading for Self-Improvement

I am the kind of person who loves to motivate people to read. When I meet someone who says “Oh, I don’t read”, my standard response is “That’s because you haven’t found the right book yet.” And then I spend the rest of the conversation trying to find books that I think would suit them.

This is exactly what I was doing with my lab mate. I asked him what kind of books he liked to read, and he told me he really liked reading books that are thought-provoking and about changing one’s habits to become a more successful individual.

And I had to pause there.

See, these are the kinds of books that I typically avoid. I’ve seen them around a lot but every time I think about reading it, I just run away to my fiction corner and cuddle with the latest fantasy/thriller/horror/sci-fi book. I’m serious: I actively try to avoid self-improvement books.


For one thing, I do a lot of reading for school that is heavy on literature. As someone who reads scientific papers all day, I use my personal reading time for something lighter, something that isn’t going to be directly applicable to my real life. And it’s not like fiction can’t be deep and thought-provoking; books like Sing, Unburied, Sing or Little Fires Everywhere are not light and fluffy at all! But while they are stimulating, there is no need for me to work on myself and try to implement any changes proposed in the book.

The other reason I don’t like reading books that fall into the self-help/motivational category is because they really don’t motivate me. I know I’m flawed and there are definitely things I want to improve (a lot of things, if I’m being honest) but whenever I read a book that is supposed to “fix” my bad habits, I end up feeling bad for having the habits in the first place. Instead of motivating me, it brings me down. It also tends to make me feel overwhelmed. There are so many different things I need to do, and I have to do them everyday and actively focus on it … and when I already have so much going on in my life, it just feels like one more added stress.

I know a lot of people who love these books and find them inspirational. They swear by the tenets of the books and how it has helped them become more effective and better and whatnot. And that’s great! I’m happy that others have found these books helpful! But I’m going to stick to my fictional novels for now. I like that they give me the opportunity to relax, to forget my problems in my real-life and jump into the problems of the characters in the book.

Have any of you read these self-help/motivational books? What did you think of them? Did they work? And what is your take on reading for pleasure vs reading for improvement? 

0 thoughts on “Reading for Pleasure vs Reading for Self-Improvement

  1. I read purely for pleasure and if I accidentally learn something than fantastic! Books not geared towards self help do actually help you… you think about what you would do in that situation and it opens your eyes to other cultures and/ or circumstances….

    And really I don’t need those self-improvement books, I don’t need any improvement, LOL 😂

    1. Yes, Yes, Yes! I wholeheartedly agree with this! There is always something you can learn from any book you read even if that was not your intent in the beginning. Some books like Little Fires Everywhere really changed my perspective on core issues and that’s what I like to focus on.
      I love your confidence and you’re right, if you love yourself enough then you don’t need those self-improvement books!
      Thanks for commenting 😚

    2. you make a valid point here. I agree that sometimes arbitrarily reading a book, any book provides so much insight it’s hard to believe you didn’t go looking for it…

  2. Girl — me too. I am so not a fan of self-help books. I agree with you when you said you can learn stuff from fiction and other genres just as much, if not more, than from self-help. I think that is because reading fiction essentially puts you in someone else’s life and so it teaches you empathy and understanding. Can’t go wrong there! My other thing with self-help books is that, like you said, they can have the opposite effect from what was intended, especially since many people who read a lot of self-help have lower confidence or are emotionally unstable. There are so many competing views within self-help that it can be more harmful than helpful. I also sometimes feel like those who read a lot of self-help can get kind of high-and-mighty, but maybe that’s my own pretentiousness?? (Maybe I need to read some self-help on not being so judgy?) Interesting post as usual!!

    1. Love and agree with everything you have to say! And the competing views is a HUGE issue! It’s hard enough in science when there are articles stating the exact opposite, I don’t need self help books leading me astray, too! Glad you liked the post and thanks so much for sharing your views!

  3. I think reading is very personal! You can find inspiration and motivtion from fiction too! And nonfiction is not just self help! 90% of the books I read are fiction but my fav book of all time is a memoir Shoe Dog by Phil Knight! I absolutely adore that one for a multitude of reasons! I do read self help books sometimes and I think it’s a good reminder of things you already know?

    1. Yes, fiction can be very inspirational! I haven’t read that memoir but I really like The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls. That’s an interesting way to look at self help books, I hadn’t considered that!
      Thanks for sharing 🙂

        1. I’m so glad you like it! I was really nervous to start these posts but the response has been great! Feel free to share your thoughts whenever and I can’t wait to see your own posts 🙂

  4. I VERY rarely read self help. I mostly focus on business reads instead to help me learn more about a certain area of marketing or something. The one book that strays into Self Help that I really loved was The Defining Decade. Great post!

    Erica | Erica Robyn Reads

      1. It was basically about how you can make the most of your 20’s. It was broken up into three major chunks: “Work,” “Love,” and “The Brain and the Body.” I learned quite a bit, some I was a bit late to the game for. But for someone in their early 20’s I would HIGHLY recommend it!

  5. as much as I would like to .. I don’t. It just dont get my imagination going, and I am a fan of just lifting off my body and feel in another world so much; so if a book don’t have that going … I mainly just get bored and stop reading.

  6. I do read self help books, but not very many. I love the escapism of reading fiction. I think if I were still reading study books, I wouldn’t read self help. So I understand you wanting more enjoyable reads during your free time. Fiction takes you away from your flaws and real world problems, whereas self help reminds you of them. But I have found a few that have been helpful.
    Nice discussion topic Vee.

    1. I’m really happy to hear that you’ve had a positive experience with them! You might be right; since I’m still doing my Masters right now, which requires a lot of heavy study material, it may also contribute to making me less inclined to reading self-help books!

  7. I don’t really read for self improvement. I often find that reading a varied selection of fiction is more than enough to enable me to think about things, learn, develop my own opinions and grow as a person. I think self improvement books are great if they can help you but I just don’t see them as being that helpful I mean, like you said we know as people we’re flawed. And we all know we have areas to improve upon. But since we read for pleasure primarily, I think we find it hard to switch to reading for self improvement…not to be confused with reading non fiction books on other topics xD Loving these discussion posts!

    1. I’m so glad you are liking my discussion posts, hopefully I can keep churning out interesting ones! And that is so true that it takes a very different reading style to read self-improvement books; you can’t approach them the way you approach a fiction or nonfiction book! Love your viewpoints!

  8. I actively despise self-help books tbh. I would never disdain someone who read them and found inspiration in them, of course – to each their own and all – but self-help books just aren’t for me. I find them wayyyy too pretentious and dull.

    1. They are very dull and I don’t find them to be very motivating. That being said, I know many people who find them motivational and helpful. Maybe it takes a certain mindset. I just know that it isn’t something I seek out actively, especially if I can read something more fun and relaxing. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  9. I agree with you on this one! I think of self-help books as ones that give you “10-step guides to conquering the universe,” which are ultimately very cheesy and…not very helpful. So, I don’t read them. I do, however, read more Christian study books, but I really don’t think they compare to the type you are discussing here. Can I join you in the corner to read? 😛

    1. Haha COME TO MY CORNER!!! For the purpose of this post, I’m only counting books that are specifically classified as self-help like 7 Habits for Being a Better Person, or whatever (no idea if that is a real book or not), but Christian study books or religious texts or any other form of nonfiction don’t count! And yes, they are so cheesy!!! Thank you for saying that!

  10. I was an English major and I just got my MFA in Creative Writing, so I’ve read A LOT from all over the map. It’s even sort of blasphemous in my area to consider reading self improvement. But here’s the thing: My intentions in my reading are different, depending what I’m reading. And for a long time, I couldn’t read self help. It really depends on the attitude you bring to the table. I couldn’t enjoy self improvement until I was in a place where I had things to work on and I could entertain that the authors of these books had something helpful and constructive to offer. And I also needed to be in a place where I was ready to take action. If you’re not in that mindset, then yeah, self improvement can kind of feel like someone is just giving you a laundry list of all the things wrong with you. Totally get where you’re coming from! Great post!

    1. That is such an important point! Mindset is really key when it comes to reading, and I mean that for anything. If you’re not in the right frame of mind, you won’t enjoy the material you are reading and you won’t get anything out of it! Thanks so much for sharing!

  11. I use to read then i stopped… I never gravitated toward self-help books. Lately Ive been feeling the need for some light academic reading , my brain feels like mush…

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