13 Helpful Books That Will Teach You Things You Actually Want to Learn
I spent 20 minutes on YouTube learning how to open a can without a can opener, a skill touted as an absolute must in the event of a zombie apocalypse. Skills such popping the lid on some life-or-death chicken noodle soup (which, in the name of journalistic integrity I feel obligated to acknowledge that I still haven't mastered) are good for cocktail conversation and procrastination — however, until the zombies overrun the earth, that's about all they're good for.
Finding ways to learn what's actually useful on a daily basis can be a much riskier business. We've likely all been burned by those depressing yellow How-To for Dummies books, which manage to insult and embarrass you before you've even cracked the spine. And, as a borderline hypochondriac, I can tell you that jumping straight to the professional textbooks without a rigorous educational introduction is both terrifying and utterly useless.
So, what's a girl to do when the urge to learn strikes, and a YouTube tutorial isn't going to cut it? Start with these 13 clear, direct, and dead-useful books that can school you in skills you might just want... and need. After all, in the age of the public library, there's no need to take on massive amounts of debt or suffer another poorly structured online tutorial just in order to expand your mind.
Although I like to think that I excel in many areas, I have always been an absolute train wreck when comes to keeping things clean. My white laundry is more of an yellowish-beige, and my coffeemaker looks like it's been through some sort of storm. But with the hilarious and absurdly helpful tips offered by Jolie Kerr in this vital volume, I've actually become something of a clean-freak, and a good one at that. I now know how to fold a fitted sheet and what gets blood out of dish towels (did I mention that I'm also a klutz?). Kerr's tips are not only on-point, they're also tailored to the particular needs of the modern Millennial, and far more addictive than I ever would have thought possible.
The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
Malcolm Gladwell's thoughtful, engaging investigation into how ideas spread is not only a fantastic read, but also a practical lesson in the art of the epidemic. In an age where one viral video can change your life, what could be more relevant than learning exactly how ideas spiral?
The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss
Gone are the days when a college graduate could settle down into a comfortable career, safe and secure in the economic future ahead of her. (DId you just start laughing reading that sentence? Yeah, you wouldn't be the only one.) These days we're all hustling, and no one has perfected the art of the hustle quite like Tim Ferriss. If you're looking for ways to up your occupational game without becoming a workaholic, The 4-Hour Workweek is a great place to start.
How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy by Orson Scott Card
It can be intimidating to develop new creative talents, but with a little effort and the right coach there's no reason at all why you can't be the next Ursula K. Le Guin. So if there's the perfect dragon tale welled up inside you just waiting for a way out, explore your creative potential with Orson Scott Card's How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy. Who knows: Maybe I'll be writing about you for Bustle Books in the not too distant future.
The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer
I've always found the phrase "All you have to do is ask" a little insulting. After all, asking for help is not always easy — in fact, it usually takes a whole lot of guts and a good bit of know-how. So, whether you're looking for personal support, backers for a new business, or the extra hands you need to finish up that passion project, Amanda Palmer's The Art of Asking is the perfect place to start.
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami
I never thought I would miss my high school locker room, but as I wrestle with my planner in search of new ways to eek out a few hours for some physical activity, I have to admit I long for a a little good old-fashioned organized recreation. If you, like me, find yourself struggling to learn new ways to take time for your body and soul, Haruki Murakami's breathtaking meditation on running and writing might be just what you need.
The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters
I first picked up The Art of Simple Food at the behest of my brilliant aunt (who, in addition to being a staggering legal mind is also an absolute genius in the kitchen). I was promised — somewhat mysteriously — a volume that was so much more than just a cookbook. What followed was the start of a life-long love affair with cooking, and I today I can honestly report that I learned almost everything I know about how to prepare food from Alice Waters. The Art of Simple Food is all about the basics: how to wash salad, how to cook an egg, roast a chicken, or whip up a simple soup. The prose is lush, the recipes read like the best short stories, and by the end you'll surprise yourself with just how much you've learned.
Lies My Teacher Told Me by James W. Loewen
Sometimes I think the standard U.S. History course should really be called "A Highly Edited and One-Sided Approach to Some of the More Obvious Moments in Our Collective Past." If also have a touch of the skeptic to you and you're ready to take a good hard look at some of the murkier moments in our collective national past, turn instead to James W. Loewen's Lies My Teacher Told Me. After all, the truth is out there, you just have to know where to find it.
Dragnet Nation: A Quest for Privacy, Security and Freedom in a World of Relentless Surveillance by Julia Angwin
Julia Angwin's informed, thorough, and thought-provoking search for privacy in the digital age is a shocking look into the world of big data and a vital tool for anyone hoping to regain control of her personal info without going off the grid. I worked through rage, disbelief, and sheer panic while reading this seminal text, and it's one of the few volumes I consider required reading for every citizen of the 21st century. When you're ready to take the red pill and find out exactly what corporate America is doing with your data, Angwin's book should be your first stop.
Our Bodies Our Selves by Boston Women's Health Book Collective
You can find just about anything on the internet by way of information, but anyone who's ever googled a weird rash or searched her symptoms on WebMD knows just how dangerous it can be to get your health advice in cyberspace. For insightful, non-judgmental, and honest information about your body and your health, turn instead to O ur Bodies Ourselves , which has been empowering women through information since 1971.
Walden by Henry David Thoreau
Walden is an American classic and a staggering treatise on nature, history, and the modern predicament. Walden is also a practical guide to living the simple life, 19th century style. Although Thoreau was writing more than 100 years ago, the sage advice and step-by-step instructions for that form the core of Walden are still some of the best ways to find your way back to nature and learn the art of a more uncomplicated existence.
The Elements of Style by Strunk & White
Unless you're some sort of a savant, you've probably got some significant gaps in your grammatical knowledge; hell, I'm a writer and I still misplace my semicolons and dangle those modifiers with frightening regularity. When you're ready to get back to basics with the English language, The Elements of Style is your one stop shop for all the language learning that's fit to print.
The Heart of Yoga: Developing a Personal Practice by T.K.V. Desikachar
There are some things you just can't learn from a book, and much to my surprise yoga is not one of them. Sure, you'll still have to practice if you want to calm your mind and make your way into a headstand any time soon, but The Heart of Yoga, with a history of the practice, and sage tools for developing your own personal relationship with yoga is the perfect place to start.
Image: Bharat Mirchandani/Flickr