CARL KASELL: From NPR and WBEZ-Chicago, this is WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME!, the NPR News quiz. I'm Carl Kasell. We're playing his week with Jessi Klein, Brian Babylon and Paula Poundstone. And, here again is your host at the Chase Bank Auditorium in downtown Chicago, Peter Sagal.
PETER SAGAL, HOST:
Thank you, Carl.
SAGAL: Thank you so much, everybody. This week, we're starting a new feature, in which we answer listeners' questions without telling you what that question was. The answer to this week's listener question: Lauren, you should name your dog "Dog Berman."
SAGAL: To submit your question, or a comment, go to our website: waitwait.npr.org. Right now, it's time for the WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME! Bluff the Listener game. Call 1-888-Wait-Wait to play our game on the air. Hi, you're on WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME!
DESI DUNCKER: Hi, this is Desi Duncker from Greenville, South Carolina.
SAGAL: Desi Duncker?
SAGAL: That is a great name.
PAULA POUNDSTONE: Wow.
DUNCKER: Oh, thank you.
SAGAL: That is very alliterative. That's great. What do you do, Desi Duncker?
DUNCKER: I'm an investment banker. I work in mergers and acquisitions for a bank down here.
SAGAL: That's great. But why couldn't you have done something that started with D?
SAGAL: Look, it's dentist Desi Duncker. That would have been awesome.
SAGAL: Well, welcome to the show, Desi.
SAGAL: You're going to play our game in which you must try to tell truth from fiction. Carl, what is Desi's topic?
KASELL: I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and dog gone it, people like me.
SAGAL: This week we lost one of the great self-help writers: Stephen Covey, author of the "7 Habits of Highly Effective People." But not every self-help book does so much good. Our panelists are going to read you three stories of self-help books falling far short of well, self-helping.
SAGAL: Guess the true story; you'll win Carl's voice on your home answering machine or voicemail. Ready to play? Desi?
DUNCKER: Yep, I'm ready.
SAGAL: OK. First, let's hear from Jessi Klein.
JESSI KLEIN: Ten years ago, yoga teacher turned life coach, Rhoda Gilbert, released a self-help audio book focused on anger management, entitled "Finding Your Inner Xanax."
KLEIN: The book included a chapter on controlling road rage, in which Gilbert urged the use of meditation techniques to stay calm while driving. Unfortunately, her suggestions, combined with her profoundly boring voice, proved all too effective.
KLEIN: Apparently, road ragers were being lulled into such a Zen state by "Finding Your Inner Xanax" that they completely blissed out and started driving way too slowly, sometimes 10 or 15 miles per hour on the highway, thus causing new cases of road rage in everyone around them.
KLEIN: Some people would even come to a complete stop after nodding off, only to wake up to tons of other people honking at them and calling them horrible names. Still, buyers of the audio book felt their lives had been changed for the better. One satisfied customer wrote an Amazon review and she said, quote, "my whole life driving, I always thought everyone around me was a frigging jerk. Now I'm the frigging jerk but I've never been happier."
SAGAL: "Finding Your Inner Xanax" ruining traffic by calming people too much. Your next story of the downside to improving yourself comes from Paula Poundstone.
POUNDSTONE: It hasn't exactly gone viral but it's worth noting that book clubs that select to read the self-help book "Surround Yourself With the Right Kind of People" disband.
POUNDSTONE: Diane Pullo, who heads Communities that Read, a national book club, says that hundreds of their clubs have fallen apart as a result of reading the book. "We can't, nor do we want to censor the reading list of any of our clubs. But what has happened is when a club finds out that the book caused the demise of other clubs; they almost feel challenged by it."
POUNDSTONE: The book instructs the read in a system numerically rating the virtues of those around them, and of course advocates shedding associations with those with low scores. Former Edgerton, Virginia Communities that Read member Barbara Athey says she was shocked to learn that her best friend Vicky found her to be only a 5.5 out of 10.
POUNDSTONE: An even bigger surprise was finding Vicky was only a 4.4. "I didn't tell her in front of the whole group, though." She did better with "The Help," even though she didn't understand it, but I didn't share that with the group either.
POUNDSTONE: "She thought 'To Kill a Mockingbird' was about a bird."
SAGAL: Book clubs being destroyed by reading a book asking people to rate their friends. Your last story of self-help making things difficult comes from Brian Babylon.
BRIAN BABYLON: In Scotland, some jail bosses have banned inmates from bringing the self-help book "The Power of Persuasion," which gives readers tips on how to influence others. Scottish prison official chief withheld the book after an inmate had the copy sent to him in a high security Shotts Prison in Lanarkshire.
The publication claims to reveal the secrets of successful persuasion, and the author also exposes tactics used by politicians, salesmen, and says he can help readers resist their charms. One insider said, "An inmate had the book removed from his personal belongings. The warden had a look at it and decided the guy could use the book to manipulate them in giving him what he wanted." "What's next," he said, "Harry Potter books used for the spells?"
SAGAL: All right then, let me review your choices for you. Was it, from Jessi Klein, the story of a book that was so good at relaxing drivers that it's actually caused traffic jams as people start driving real slowly?
Or a book that book clubs were reading and was destroying book clubs because it asked people to rate their friends? Or from Brian Babylon: a prison banning a self-help book because it might make the prisoners too persuasive. Which of these is the real story of self-help not helping?
DUNCKER: This is a tough one. But I think I'm going to go with Paula's story about the book clubs and rating each other, because that just sounds like something we would do in our society, rating each other.
SAGAL: You think so?
SAGAL: So the book clubs being destroyed when they all agreed to read a book about rating their friends.
SAGAL: Well, we spoke to a literary agent who knew about this.
MITCHELL WATERS: The simplest solution would be to make sure that the staff at the prison system read the book themselves.
SAGAL: That was, in fact, Mitchell Waters. He's a literary agent with Curtin Brown Limited. He deals with self-help books. He was talking, of course, about the prisoners in Scotland and the banned self-help book.
So I'm sorry, although Paula's idea was absolutely nefarious, that was not the right answer. The true story was, of course, Brian. I'm afraid you did not win. But you earned a point for Paula and gave me a very, very, very good idea for my next book.
SAGAL: Thank you so much for playing, Desi.
DUNCKER: Thanks guys, appreciate it.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.