When a standard-format book can’t cope

SEPTEMBER 22 03

I was in the library the other day and saw a surprising new addition to the 'For Dummies' range of books: Frugal Living For Dummies, by Deborah Taylor-Hough. Hmmm, waste $16.99/£12.95 on this pile of shit and let me tell you how not to do it again, that's what it should say on the cover.

There was a book I had out of the library years ago I thought was inspiring, called Living Better On Less by Patrick Rivers, an unassuming honest book on the simple lifestyle, this Dummies book is just taking the piss. You have to wonder who the target market is for a book like this, because those who want to simplify their lives are usually in the process of getting rid of stuff rather than adding more and tend to be clued up enough not to buy garbage. And those living on the breadline don't need patronising advice about frugal living. So presumably the book is aimed at fat but slightly impoverished Americans who want a diet of trite ideas for spending less without the bother of having to address the fundamental nature of a society riddled with over-consumption.

I can imagine the editorial meeting at which the proposal for this book was discussed:

'But will people buy it if they haven't got much money? Is it a book that will be attractive to those who want to turn their back on the consumer society?'

'Of course they'll buy it, our readership is self-defined as stupid. We're dumbfuck magnets.'

'Will it need adapting for the British market?'

'We never adapt, they're already Americanised into stupidity over there.'

Sample advice given in Frugal Living For Dummies to save on air-conditioning bills in hot weather:.

Close your drapes during the hours of direct sunlight.

This simple concept is expanded for an entire page through a series of ticked bullet-points until the author is advising:

Add reflective window curtain liners.

Just in case this is a difficult concept for some readers:

Usually these have the reflective coating on only one side, so be sure to have the reflective side facing outward during the summer to keep the heat out of your house.

And when it's a bit colder, apparently it's possible to stay warm without turning up the heat:

Open your curtains during daylight hours, especially on southern windows, for a bit of passive solar heating.

Yeah, light to see by too for free! And won't you be glad to have a friend who can afford to buy this trashy book for themselves yet can't afford to buy you a decent birthday present but instead chooses to follow the instructions in 'Ten Frugal Gift-Giving Ideas' and makes you a Soup Can Planter:

Clean out a soup can and keep the label intact. Try not to get the label wet. After the can is dry, punch a few drainage holes in the bottom with a hammer and nail (don't hammer the can to your kitchen counters!). Cover the label with clear adhesive paper to protect it from water damage, fill with potting soil, and then add a cutting or small plant. You may even want to include a small thrift store plate to catch water under the drainage holes. These gifts make nice teacher appreciation presents.

I can see it now, picture the scene at those cheap evening classes in IT:

'Don't bring me a bottle of whisky this year Mrs Taylor-Hough to thank me for all those lessons in using a word-processor, I'd much rather have a Heinz Tomato Soup Can with a daffodil in it made by your own loving hands. If it's already going rusty, all the better, it'll look aged.'