I’m reading Cosmopolitan and trashy relationship books at Borders again. It brings me back 17 years, when I was beginning research for my first book, Listen with Your Heart: Seeking the Sacred in Romantic Love, which critiques the manipulative dating advice aimed at women and offers a spiritual approach to relationships instead. 

The book has been out of print for a few years, so today I headed to Borders to start writing an updated proposal to get the book back into print. I wasn’t sure what I’d find. “What if the relationship books have gotten better?” I wondered. “Will I have to revise my assessment of popular culture?” No worries. The cover of this month’s Cosmo claims to tell us, “How to Get a Guy in 7 Days.” In the self-help section I found Love in 90 Days: The Essential Guide to Finding Your Own True Love and, better yet, How to Make Someone Fall in Love with You in 90 Minutes or Less. Some of my old favorites are still on the shelves: How to Marry the Man of Your Choice, which claims to have more than a million copies in print, and The Rules, a primer on playing hard to get which sold 2 million copies while I was changing diapers. It’s almost enough to make a spiritual self-help author feel discouraged. 

Of course, a few things have changed. Seventeen years ago the café wasn’t full of people with laptops, and none of us knew what wifi was. I wasn’t able to instantly see a book’s amazon ranking or the author’s website, all without leaving the bookstore. I also didn’t have a teenage daughter, which makes the job of countering the sexist nonsense of popular culture feel all the more urgent.