apy, and, of course, not everyone needs it. Books can empower people to take charge of their lives and look at how to tackle their problems. But it's important that we remember that they should be there as a prop and an aid, not a panacea."

Denise Knowles, counsellor for Relate, believes that books by authors with no professional qualification, based on their individual experiences, can be helpful. She says: "People can be greatly helped because they identify with the author as an ordinary person like themselves. But the danger comes when you get an unscrupulous writer or publisher who is not careful of what is said, and may use a gimmicky approach to make money. People tend to buy these books when they are in a vulnerable state."

Books homing in on our intimate lives, which are bought in far greater quantities by women than by men, began to hit the bookstands in the 1960s, following on from the opening up of sexual lives by Masters and Johnson, and a general breaking down of taboos on private life. Zelda West-Meads says: "It is only in the last 30 years that the defensive British stiff upper lip has broken down, and people are now more aware of confronting problems. There have been books here about relationships since the Sixties, and they have increased as the divorce rate has increased."

But, says Eileen Campbell, managing director at Thorsons: "It is really only since the mid-Eighties that these books have been selling well. Now the growth of self-help books is very large because people want to find ways to improve the quality of relationships, and they have realised that communication is a key."

So how, if we want a book which will help us grapple with the human condition during difficult times, do we know what to choose? It is worth spending time looking through a range and seeing which feels most comfortable; consider whether the book is offering you insights and general information based on detailed research, as Miller does, which may help you to look dispassionately at your situation. If there is a plan of action, consider whether it sounds feasible in your situation, and be wary of books which suggest it is your fault if all does not go according to plan.

And, finally, choose a book you will enjoy reading and which will make you feel as though you are in the company of somebody you would trust if he or she was sitting next to you.

8 Additional research: Zarina Banu and Sophie Barker

KEY TITLES: 1988-95


Michael Scott Peck (Arrow, pounds 4.99)

First published: 1988.

Editions: three.

Words of wisdom: for people who want to know not just about lurve but about Life. Heavier going than most; chapters include "Cathexis Without Love". Tells it like it is: "The honeymoon always ends. The bloom of romance always fades."

Sales: 660,000.


John Gray (Thorsons pounds 7.99)

First published: 1993.

Editions: reprinted 13 times.

Words of wisdom: says we are all aliens in human form. "Once upon a time Martians and Venusians met, fell in love and had happy relationships because they respected their differences. Then they came to Earth and amnesia set in: they forgot they were from different planets." And so on, with especially fascinating insights on "Why Men Go into Their Caves" (psychological caves, of course) and "Emotional Housecleaning" (nothing to do with cleaning the kitchen floor).

Sales: 215,000.


Dee Dee Glass (Virago pounds 8.99)

First published: April 1995.

Words of wisdom: Intelligently written exploration, with interviews, of why women stay in abusive relationships. "In beginning to question the criteria by which individuals and organisations make their judgements, we will be taking the first step: to stop dividing women into guilty and innocent victims."

Sales: just over 2,000.