Scott Stabile

[New World Library, 240 pages]

The concept behind the ever-expanding genre of self-help books has always bemused me. While that sentence in and of itself may bemuse some readers, as the concept is relatively self-explanatory, I’ve always questioned the value of these books. That is, until I read Scott Stabile’s Big Love: The Power of Living with a Wide-Open Heart.

To my understanding, the purpose of a self-help or self-improvement book is to provide the reader with instructive steps that may be used to help solve personal issues. What puzzled me about this concept was its one-size-fits-all approach. I simply couldn’t understand how one set of steps could be used to solve the very intimate and unique difficulties of a wide variety of individuals. Thankfully, Stabile’s compilation of personal essays brought to light how naive my outlook on this genre was.

Simple yet authentic descriptions

After glancing through the Author’s Note and diving into the first chapter, I was struck by how quickly I was captivated by the author’s simple yet authentic descriptions of significant moments in his life. I was immediately taken aback by the witty and welcoming tone in which Stabile addresses his reader; it completely undermined the formulaic instruction manual of my expectations. Much to the disappointment of those expectations, I had no desire to stop reading!

I was immediately taken aback by the witty and welcoming tone in which Stabile addresses his reader.

Each essay in Big Love takes the reader to a new experience or moment in the author’s life. Stabile recounts his journey—and all of its struggles—that led him to achieve a more open and truthful appreciation of both himself and others. Each instance is intertwined with lessons on love and forgiveness, and stresses the importance of learning to appreciate and accept ourselves for who we are, while remembering the significance of connecting with those around us.

A pleasing and relatable mix of content

The mix of narrative and analytical writing styles within this book allows the reader to engage with the story and make connections through shared or similar experiences. While reading, I found myself personally relating to at least some aspects of Stabile’s experience. This, in turn, led me to take a moment to reflect on his advice and how it could affect my life.

For me, this was the most impressive feature of the book. It’s not often that I read something that makes me stop mid-sentence and ponder the implications of my actions, as well as how I could respond better to situations in the future.

The transitions between lighthearted and heavier material were another aspect of this book that impressed me. Throughout, Stabile shares many personal and difficult moments in his life, while continually expressing his belief in the power of love. From the tragic loss of his parents to brewing the perfect cup of tea, each essay discusses a different obstacle that many of us face, both knowingly and unknowingly, and suggests that by keeping an open heart, we too can overcome whatever’s thrown our way.

A couple of things that didn’t thrill me

While, overall, I had a very positive experience with this book, there were a couple of stylistic choices that didn’t thrill me. First of all, Stabile used personal interjections, which were often humorous in nature, to speak directly to the reader. This technique is often used in literature to relieve tension when discussing otherwise serious topics, and for the most part, it worked well with Stabile’s subject matter.

The frequency with which these personal interjections were used, however, took away from the impact the author’s insights could’ve had on me. Rather than letting me respond organically to the topic at hand, Stabile’s interjections often directed my thought process and suggested how I should respond to a sentence. In other words, I felt like the interjections hindered my ability to react as authentically as I would’ve liked.

The repetitive nature of Stabile’s conclusions was another aspect of the book that caused me some frustration. Each essay was concluded with a series of insights and suggestions about how the author wished to approach similar experiences in the future. While I found these suggestions to be very insightful, they tended to reiterate the same notion over and over. Therefore, they caused me to skim over, rather than truly take in, the last few sentences of each chapter. As someone who likes to find meaning in every word, this last habit was distressing.

But it’s definitely worth reading

Overall, Stabile’s raw and emotional approach to spreading the power of love leads me to happily recommend Big Love to anyone who wishes to take a self-reflective look at their journey through life. His emphasis on the importance of empathy, facing our fears and loving ourselves in this ever-changing and relentless world is a message that I’ll carry with me as I move forward. This book defiantly exceeded my expectations, and if nothing else, opened my eyes to the benefits of venturing outside my comfort zone and approaching things with a “wide-open heart.”

Read an excerpt from the book by visiting THE HAPPINESS CHALLENGE: We can’t choose happiness, but we can help it choose us»

image: Pixabay