Rebecca Rosenblum on Advice Columns

As a kid, I read Ann Landers daily. Meddling inlaws and unfaithful spouses weren’t my concerns; I was researching ways of coping with adulthood. I’m still addicted to advice columns. The world is an advice-y place right now. Television teaches us how to be better parents, dressers, decorators and chefs. Bonus—we get to watch hapless reality-show protagonists fail in these pursuits—advice with a touch of schadenfreude. Advice columns are less prurient—advice-requesters can self-censor their letters. Of course, we still learn plenty about their foibles and failures—that’s half the point. Columnists give advice, but the letter-writers give us an education on the human condition.

Rebecca Rosenblum’s fiction has been short-listed for the Journey Prize and the Danuta Gleed Award. Her first collection, Once, won the Metcalf-Rooke Award. Her second, The Big Dream, is forthcoming. Follow her @rebeccarosenblu

1. Group Therapy

In the Globe and Mail‘s “Group Therapy” column, Lynn Coady excels at simple wisdom. But she’s also a wiseacre, funny and cool, and she never hesitates to blast someone who hasn’t been honest with her…or themselves. Coady sees the weaknesses of the advice-column format–self-censored letters–and works against them. In this article from last September, Coady is very sharp in assessing the letter writer’s self-delusions, and encouraging her to ask herself the tough questions.

2. Cupcakes

Purely online advice can go super-super-specific and still find an audience…if it’s good. Cupcake Blog’s Cheryl Porro has creativity matched only by her attention to detail. This makes her blog not just food porn, but useful–and kinda fun. The pictures are lovely but the recipes are precise. Even better, her general baking tips are compulsive enough to keep even a kitchen klutz on track. This post on how to bake hundreds of cupcakes at once will blow your mind–but actually help you do it, too!

3. Savage Love

Dan Savage’s “Savage Love” offers sex advice from flirting to flogging. Though the questions are sometimes “exotic,” Savage’s advice is funny and relatable to even the most vanilla (being “good, giving, and game” is never a bad idea). Some of Savage’s advice sounds mean, but like Coady, he nails half-truths and delusions. In this “Quickies” column, he needs only a paragraph at a time to call out his advisees on all their bad decisions and dumb ideas. Smart, sharp and not for the faint of heart.

4. Ask a Ninja

Advice columns are eminently mockable—all the earnest soul-baring and self-helpy ideas. Some parodies aren’t particularly funny, but Ask a Ninja really is. Some of the questions he is asked aren’t for advice; people just try to trip him up. But I prefer the ones where lends his expertise to non-ninja stuff, like this one on ninja baby-proofing… or baby ninja-proofing. High-quality silliness!

5. Tales of Mere Existence

Levni Yilmaz’s “Tales of Mere Existence” are funny, sad, and totally realistic–for line drawings. Many purport to be how-to advice, but are really anti-advice, what-not-to-do advice or how-to-live-with-bad-decisions advice. The videos are tales of the filmmaker’s experiences, and we can learn from his mistakes. Here’s how to break up, according to Yilmaz—so, actually, how not to.