Trade paperbacks purporting to explain the mysteries of the universe to utter dolts have been a publishing phenomenon for the past decade. Hungry Minds' For Dummies series dominates the category with 1,231 books available at amazon.com, while Alpha Books' The Complete Idiot's Guide To series numbers 650. While you might expect this wealth of knowledge to have sparked a new age of enlightenment, idiots seems just as idiotic as before while dummies are still dumb. We can't blame the publishers; they did their part. But we can criticize the editors at Alpha Books for their choices in subjects. While Hungry Minds' titles are usually rather dry (Windows XP For Dummies, Personal Finance For Dummies, Grant Writing For Dummies, etc.), Alpha Books seems to have staked out the stuff-even-idiots-should-already-know niche, or the there's-no-way-in-hell-you'll-master-this-by-just-reading-a-book market. Here are some of the worst examples.
The Complete Idiot's Guide to Simple Living
Yes, in this complicated age of things that are so much more complicated than the complications of previous generations, people yearn to live simply. Of course, Americans have been whining about doing that for the past century, and experts have always been there to help them (at a price). Why is it that you need a book or magazine to tell you how to live simply? Because you're never actually going to live your idealized "simple" lifestyle. Nevernot unless you drop out of society. But by buying a guidebook, you will gain the sense that hey, you did something about it. You gave simplicity a real shot. The advice in this Idiot's Guide can be reduced to a short (simple) list: reduce your debt, stop buying crap you don't need, find a job you like. Oh, and start living simply.
The Complete Idiot's Guide to Being Psychic
"Some might think this book proves that the Complete Idiot's series is running out of subjects to simplify, but it is more likely evidence that psychic phenomena have finally found acceptance in the mainstream," reads amazon.com's in-house review. They got it right the first time. Psychic phenomena have always been accepted by the mainstream, and there have always been "psychics" more than happy to take advantage of it (for shame, Sci Fi Channel, for shame). Co-authored by Lynn A. Robinson, M.Ed, an "intuitive consultant," this Idiot's Guide purports to help you unleash your hidden powers with "quick and easy ways to get in touch with your psychic side." Once you've touched that particular side, you'll realize that "your intuition is sending you information all the timeyou just need to start noticing it." If your intuition is telling you that this book is taking advantage of people's susceptibility to flim-flammery, then you may be psychic!
The Complete Idiot's Guide to Scrapbooking
"Scrapbooking"putting photos and other assorted memorabilia into scrapbooksis apparently a national trend. Or at least this is what a small industry of scrapbooking authorities is telling us. There are now scrapbooking stores, scrapbooking magazines (author Wendy Smedley contributes to Creating Keepsakes and PaperKuts), and of course, scrapbooking books. While I fully support and even encourage the creative organization of one's photos into scrapbooks, I must ask: Do we really need 400 pages of instructions to tell us how to glue photos down? Sure, this Idiot's Guide promises sagacious advice on choosing the "right" pens and the "right" adhesive, but, geez, we learned this stuff in the second grade. Not unlike the pseudo-trend of "journaling"which requires its own special equipment and how-to booksscrapbooking is yet another attempt by the powerful paper-crafts conglomerates to sell us old concepts with new catchphrases. Don't be fooled!
The Complete Idiot's Guide to Being Sexy
Sari Locker, a former "Relationship Correspondent on CBS-TV," instructs readers on the ways of sexiness with tips on how to: "Dress in many different sexy fashions," "Use body language to move in the sexiest ways," and "Seduce anyone, anytime, anywhere, well into your golden years." Of course, you can't have sexiness without stars, so Locker also allows us to "Learn tips about what's sexy from the world's sexiest celebrities." If all of this seems to contradict Locker's various self-empowerment slogans"Being sexy is all about being yourself," "The best bodies are those that have confident people in them," " you have to love what you have, rather than trying to conform to some silly ideal."then chalk it up to the same hypocritical narcissism found in most women's magazines. On one hand, their blurbs often stress how everyone should feel good about who they really are and what they really look like. On the other hand, here are 300 pages of make-up, hair, and fashion tips to make yourself look better to others. So love yourself. Just change.
The Complete Idiot's Guide to Enhancing Self-Esteem
Truly, the title says it all.
April 4, 2002