The 'Prozac Nation' author is helping herself to the self-help genre

By Karen Valby
Updated February 16, 2001 at 05:00 AM EST

I know I got a bad reputation, and it isn’t just talk, talk, talk,” promises folksinger Freedy Johnston on Elizabeth Wurtzel’s answering machine. The 33-year-old author, who chronicled her mental breakdown in Prozac Nation, appeared topless on the cover of Bitch, and is currently writing More, Now (Again), about Ritalin and cocaine addictions that peaked during the writing of Bitch, has a long history of proclaiming her personal missteps. Which makes her the perfect person to write … a self-help book?!?

Over crepes in a cramped Manhattan bistro, Wurtzel offers an explanation for Radical Sanity: Commonsense Advice for Uncommon Women ( e-book, $9.95). ”If you want good advice, ask an unhappy person who wants to be happy. While in rehab, I studied this idea that you can pursue sanity with the same intensity you normally pursue self-destruction,” she says, pulling fiercely on a Marlboro Light. ”Can you tell I’m not a smoker? It seems to have become a substitute for all the other crap I used to do.”

Her suggestions are soft (Eat dessert! Buy a cat! Travel light!), but she speaks of them earnestly. ”I’m like the test case for all of this stuff. My therapist said I have to read my book every day.” Yet, two coffees and four cigarettes later, she admits that perhaps people shouldn’t become obsessed over finding the recipe to remedy their angst. ”Hopefully, this will be the self-help book to end self-help books. Someone once said voting for Stalin was like voting for never being able to vote again. Maybe that’s it — I’m voting for Stalin.”