The rise and rise of ‘stealth help’ books

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‘Stealth help': everything you need to know about the new genre that’s snuck up on us. The phrase ‘stealth help’ might not be one you’ve heard of before – but in the literary world, it’s one that’s gaining popularity. It refers to a growing category of books which don’t fit neatly within the confines of a classic self-help book but can still provide inspiration and guidance to readers. 

Non-fiction book editor Alison Fraser has worked on some of the world’s top non-fiction titles, and says ‘stealth help' can be seen as an offshoot of both memoir and self-help. Memoir has been a popular genre for some time, and as it has grown it has developed sub-genres like ‘stealth help', she says.

“I would classify ‘stealth help' as having an external element of being about one thing, and then ‘how could this help your life’ is the subtext,” Alison says. 

Gain a new perspective on the world

Books which could fit into the category have been written for some time – Alison points to Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl, published in 1946.

Man’s Search for Meaning is about surviving life in a concentration camp, and it's also saying if life can have value, even in the conditions of being in a concentration camp, then life has to have value anywhere,” she says. “It's a new term, but I don't think that stops it from applying to older texts. Self-help has been around for a long time, and I guess the differentiation would be that ‘stealth help’ is not an overtly self-help book.”

Another example is David Whyte’s 2001 book Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity

“It’s about your career and finding your identity through your career, but it has this self-help element where it's also about finding yourself and discovering who you are,” Alison says.

Learn about yourself through learning about others

Murdoch Books publishing director Lou Johnson sees ‘stealth help' as a fusion of memoir and personal development. Readers connect to such books because they’re compellingly written, and they often feel like they’d like to become friends with the authors, she says. 

“It’s where someone’s personal experience powers a journey of discovery and understanding,” she says. “These are the books that make personal development really engaging, relatable and accessible.

“Sometimes it is a vicarious exploration of a subject that intrigues them and having it delivered in this way makes it really digestible. The other is that they come to the topic via the author, so they learn about deeper issues, or gain some personal benefit as a result of that – hence the term ‘stealth help’.”

But where do I find them?

Bestselling juggernaut Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia by Elizabeth Gilbert is a prime example of the category. 

From Australian authors, Phosphorescence: on Awe, Wonder and Things That Sustain You When the World Goes Dark by Julia Baird, and Any Ordinary Day: Blindsides, Resilience and What Happens After the Worst Day of Your Life by Leigh Sales both fit within ‘stealth help’, Lou says. 

“A book we are publishing later this year called Turning Down the Noise is a perfect example,” Lou says. “Through her personal quest for a better way of being, author and respected journalist Christine Jackman seeks out the best ways to regain clarity and peace of mind in a busy and noisy world.”

So next time you’re having a browse, look out for ‘stealth help' books: without even realising it, they might help you change your life. 

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