Netgalley recently allowed me access to Sharon and David Bowers’ The Useful Book (Workman Publishing, $20) to see what I made of it.
For someone who holds DIY and “making” close to her heart, it’s a fun but imperfect find, featuring over a hundred practical how-to “skills” that you might not have picked up from traditional sources like Home Economics class or Wood Shop.
The book consists of two sections, one focusing on home skills, the latter on handyman ones. The page layout is easy to follow with sensible columns, lots of art, and simple step-by-step instructions. You can dive into a random page and grab some how-to without having to read from cover-to-cover.
I see this more as a gift book suitable for a coffee table than a much-loved reference. I found the coverage to be entertaining even when I disagreed with some of the suggested approaches or found them missing important details.
I warn you that some of the topics may seem a little underwhelming (“How to boil water” and “How to care for your (sewing) needles” spring to mind). The practical applications (“Superstitious folk wisdom advises that, to protect a child from evil spirits during sleep, a key must be slipped under his or her pillow”) may not exactly fit my corner of the DIY community.
For example, my physicist husband points out that there’s absolutely no reason to stick with cold water for boiled water (#1, “How to Boil Water”), as dissolved mineral danger is hyped up in his opinion. He adds that the reason you want to cover your pot is to prevent heat from escaping, and make your water boil faster, more than losing water content through steam.
I learned that I could have drained my tofu (#47, “How to Cook with Tofu”) — a step I have never taken and am unlikely to adopt even now, but was happy to learn about. (I use my hand to provide top-down pressure as I slice tofu sideways first before doing rows and columns.)
We like bright lights in our workspaces and are unlikely to swap them out for cost-saving lower wattage units (#177 “How to Slash Your Electricity Bill”)
This isn’t to say there isn’t good advice on-hand, like sanding rough spots when patching a wall but I do wish that they’d offered advice like checking the inside of a bike tire as well as looking at the outside for possible reasons why it went flat, a critical tip in goathead country.
If you’re looking for a nice housewarming gift for a new couple, this title could suit the bill. If you’re looking for a deeply geeky read, this probably isn’t going to be your cup of tea.