Friday, January 23, 2009

Male competencies updated

kw: book reviews, nonfiction, handbooks, advice

Let's face it: Guys just love giving instruction or advice. Our most enduring archetype is the Dutch Uncle, providing guidance with a hand on your shoulder (particularly if you are female). A favorite book of my youth was the Boy Scout Handbook. Other "advice for boys" books came and went, but this one was by my side for years and years. Now, there comes along an advice book that could supplant it: The Guide for Guys: An Extremely Useful Manual for Old Boys and Young Men by Michael Powell. My secret title for it: Handbook for Grown-up Scouts.

In Guide for Guys (G4G) we don't find much boy scoutish woodcraft (though it does tell how to build a fire and light it without matches, and how to use a compass, with a compass included). Its seventy short chapters range from "Hold a Baby" and "Smoke a Cigar" to "Defend Yourself in a Fistfight" and "Pitch a Curveball".

The art is retro-fifties, as this clip shows. It may be retro-before that, for this style of drawing began in the late 1800s, when many of the great self-help books were written. The many illustrations cut the word count, so this 200+ page book is a pretty quick read.

I did read it in order, though I don't imagine that is the author's intention. It belongs in the shelf by the phone, or in the workshop, where one can look up its helpful hints as needed. The topics aren't in any special order. The table of contents is the only index.

Were I the author's editor, I might have suggested adding an alphabetical index and grouping topics. For example, "Ballroom Dancing for Guys", "Make Small Talk", "Get the Best Table in a Restaurant" and "Break up with a Woman Tactfully" could form the basis if a "Relations with the Fairer Sex" section, and the "Fistfight" chapter could go with "Survive an Animal Attack" and "Protect Yourself During a Lightning Storm" and others in a "Safety" section. Other section possibilities: Sports, Career, and Pleasures.

But that's another thing about guys. They are seldom that organized.

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