Saturday, June 29, 2013

My Addiction to For "Dummies" Books: A Sort of Review

I have never been a big reader. Well, that's not true. I've never been a big "traditional" reader.

People would ask me what book I'm reading, and either a lie would float out of my mouth or I'd give a "smart" response. The latter, of course, would be that I mostly read magazines, newspapers, and stuff on the internet -- the truth. For some reason, it doesn't really sound good to admit to that. I have just never been that big on books.

Enter the Very Long Commute
For about a period of four months, this all changed. I got transferred to an office in a different city and had a daily 3 to 4 hour commute. Sleeping on the bus and subway didn't really work out, and you really start feeling like you're wasting your life just sitting in traffic doing absolutely nothing for over 3 hours a day. Now that I'm back, that's all changed and I'm mostly back to my book hating ways.

During that time, I started going through a book a week. It wasn't out of the norm to get through 50 pages a day. Over five days, that's about 250 pages plus more time on the weekend.

My "For Dummies "Book Collection So Far

For Dummies - Non-Fiction, My Type of Reading
However, I still wasn't reading "traditional" books. Being cheap and a nerd, non-fiction is where I find the action to be at. And I realized that there were a lot of subjects that I'd always wanted to learn about, but didn't have a chance to study in school. Without an internet connection to access Wikipedia, I started buying books from the For Dummies series.

I would describe this series as more detailed and much longer Wikipedia articles. They are cheap, "dumbed down" and easy to read, take no commitment, and cover a range of topics. When I still surfed bookstores years ago, I always loved flipping through For Dummies books. For some reason, I never felt like they -- or any books for that matter -- were worth buying. That probably had to do with the prices being more than $20 or higher thanks to the "Canadian price". Amazon changed that and most of my collection of books were acquired for less than $20, usually around $17.

One of the things that you'll find in For Dummies books should be that they are structured very similarly from one book to the next, regardless of topic. From my experience with over a dozen books (only 12 in the picture below, I've since bought more), there's usually the introduction, cartoons, the meat of the book, and then the "Part of Tens". The introduction details how the book is laid out, summarizes chapters, defines symbols, and tells the reader that each section should be standalone.

Books also seem to use similar formatting, and I what I find to be a similar writing style. Regardless, I find the writing to be very easy to read with fewer technical terms and more common language. It appears common for the pronoun, "she", to be used in books when referring to any person in general.

Cover to Cover
Repetition, Repetition, Repetition
Remember that part about each section being standalone? To be standalone, each section has to assume that the reader knows nothing. For a person who reads from cover to cover, there may be a noticeable amount of repetition. This may seem to be filler, but I find it extremely useful. Repetition is a great aid for memorization and retaining information. I force myself to go through all of these books from beginning to end and I try to skip nothing. Occasionally, I do start at the "Part of Tens", get it out of the way, and restart from the beginning.

That's not to say that there isn't a lot of content. Most books that I have are around 340 pages in length. Some shorter ones like the composting and dog books are close to 200.

Favorite For Dummies Books
I won't lie, not every book has been a winner for me. Each one has bestowed on me a lot of useful information. However, some of them have been a chore to go through because I forced myself to finish each one -- even ones I found out I wasn't really interested in.

On the "not too pleased" end were statistics, economics, and psychology. The statistics and economics books were, I found, a bit heavy on math and technical information. Funny if you know I studied engineering and now hate it. Law wasn't that heavy on technical information, it was just not what I was expecting. I wanted a book on the legal system, courts, procedure, etc. What I felt I got was a bit on that stuff and a lot on actual American laws for specific situations. Not being American, that provides me little benefit -- more details on the common law system would have been useful though.

The standouts and my favorites were the books on body language, anthropology, and psychology. Anthropology, of course, is the study of people and includes the origins of humans, evolution, archaeology, and culture. Psychology is the study of the human mind from a biological and social perspective. Body language is an extension of psychology and culture. Seeing a pattern?Over the past few years, I've realized that I really enjoy the social sciences and would go back to college and get a bachelor of arts if I had the money. These books sort of allow that for very little money and virtually no opportunity costs.

Join In?
If you're bored and need some reading material, join in my addiction and pick up some of the books. My recommendation would be to start with anything you're interested in. Or check out my favorites:

Decaf: I Finally Understand You
Sunscreen: Beating the sun, burning eyes, I hate you.
Usefulness of a Sound Level Meter
UV Beads: How to See Ultraviolet Light Indoors
Wearing earplugs in theaters, subways, concerts, everywhere!