Whether it’s schadenfreude, self-improvement, or simply gratitude that our own problems are not worse, reading advice columns seems to be a pastime with universal appeal.
“Dear Barb,” The Voice‘s own advice column, has been popular with readers since it first appeared in 2003. Barbara Godin, an AU graduate (BA), is the “Barb” behind the column and she also compiles the “Women of Interest” feature for the magazine.
After more than 500 “Dear Barb” columns, Godin has collected a selection of her advice into book format. Her recently-released Dear Barb book is subtitled, Answers to Your Everyday Questions.
For her Dear Barb book, Godin chose questions about problems relating to many facets of life, including family and relationship issues, health and addiction, work, holidays, pets, and loss. Also included are questions relating to the early days of the 2020 pandemic, making the book timely and relevant.
The book is organized by topic, and each chapter is headed by a meaningful quotation. The table of contents gives a brief description of problems addressed in each chapter, allowing readers a quick route to a relevant issue.
Many of Godin’s responses contain some truly insightful comments. Responding to a question about difficulties in a blended family, Godin pithily observes, “The ideal of the Brady Bunch is basically that, an ideal, not a reality.” (And, I as recall, even the Brady family was not without its conflicts.) Responding to a question about grief for a younger sibling, Godin acknowledges, “When a parent loses a child everyone rallies around and supports them, however, often a sibling’s grief is overlooked, and they are left to deal with the loss on their own.”
Godin is not a trained psychologist or counsellor. But, as readers of her personal articles in The Voice will recognize, Godin has experienced many painful life situations. She seems to have translated those challenges into empathy for others and a sincere desire to help others navigate the sometimes-troubled waters of life. With Godin’s thoughtful replies to each problem, the advice seems on par with that you might expect from a trusted friend.
While I didn’t relate directly to any specific problem in the book, I certainly found elements of Godin’s advice that applied to universal issues: everyone has family or relationships or a bit of stress that could benefit from a dollop of perspective.
As with Godin’s weekly column in The Voice, I found myself formulating my own advice as I read the submitted question, then seeing how that compared with Godin’s. Perhaps there was a bit of schadenfreude—pleasure derived by another’s misfortune— and definitely gratitude that my collection of problems appears trivial by comparison to those of some others.
Overall, Dear Barb is an engaging read, full of useful advice and suggestions on how to deal with all those day-to-day problems that none of us seem exempt from. As with most self-help books, each reader can extract what they find useful. There is much Dear Barb advice that has far-reaching application to many areas of life.
Although many submissions to The Voice‘s “Dear Barb” column relate to AU’s student population, Dear Barb the book appeals to a broader readership. AU students looking for student-specific advice aren’t out of luck though: it does pop up within other topics, and they can also scan through the hundreds of “Dear Barb” columns on The Voice’s website. Or they can email Dear Barb herself and possibly appear in a future column.
Dear Barb, the book, is available in paperback and ebook formats, though Amazon and Kobo. More information on Barbara Godin and her new book is available on Godin’s website at www.barbgodin.com.