Quentin Parker’s The Universal Code of (Formerly) Unwritten Rules, Meghan Rowland & Chris Turner-Neal’s The Misanthrope’s Guide to Life (Go Away!), and A Miscellany of Murder, by the Monday Murder Club
There is a certain sort of person I can’t stand. You know the type I’m talking about. The one who effortlessly rattles off a list of restaurants in response to a breathless comment like, ‘Oh, I could really go for some vegan Peruvian tonight.’ The one who gets the perfect gift — you know, the gift that gets at the essence of the recipient’s personality, or captures the significance of the occasion for giving the gift. When you see the gift, you’re stupefied. You might even smack yourself on the forehead like in the V-8 commercials. It’s like one of those self-evident truths — when you see it, you think, ‘Duh, that’s so obvious. Why the hell didn’t I think of that?’ That person. The one who makes you feel like an idiot — or more properly, whose very existence is a constant reminder of the fact that, compared with this person, you are an idiot.
I’m jealous. I won’t deny it. The fact is, I can’t come up with ideas for anything. Ever. Except when I’m alone, driving along, not needing anything, and I see a restaurant or shop and think, ‘We should go there sometime. I’ll have to remember…’ Then, of course, when the time comes to act on that good idea, I can’t remember it. Seriously. Go ahead, point a gun. Cock the hammer, or whatever you gangsters do, but I can’t remember.
Good news, people. I don’t have to. Not anymore. Not when there are books like Quentin Parker’s The Universal Code of (Formerly) Unwritten Rules, Meghan Rowland & Chris Turner-Neal’s The Misanthrope’s Guide to Life (Go Away!), and A Miscellany of Murder, by the Monday Murder Club (all published by Adams Media). These are great gift books because they are witty, concise, appropriately snarky, and generally on point.
Parker’s Unwritten Rules provides an up-to-date (and, unlike the 10 Commandments) a genuinely useful set of principles for modern life. Take “Unwritten Rule #22: One should always park properly in a parking space, never crookedly or too close to adjacent cars.” Word to the morons who make cars the size of a Winnebago, the world is not — I repeat not — getting larger. Human beings are proliferating across the globe like cockroaches, and instead of making smaller cars, you idiots are making them bigger. But even those oh-so-eco-conscious Prius or “smart car” owners aren’t above managing to straddle the line in the parking lot. Apparently in their zeal to create a world free of crowds and smog and filth, they have wished other people out of existence. Consequently, they just park willy-nilly, leaving the rest of us to get out of our cars by crawling through the back window.
For those of us who realize that, until every human being on the planet have a copy of Parker’s unwritten rules, it’s best just to take cover, we have The Misanthrope’s Guide to Life (Go Away!). In my view, authors Rowland and Turner-Neal (and just how did they manage to stand each other long enough to co-write this book???) have written perhaps the single-most important self-help book since, well, ever. Here we find a plethora of accurate diagnoses and treatments for those of us who generally loathe others — or at least the thought of such. Be warned, however. Authors Rowland and Turner-Neal are not for the feint of heart. (Remember, they are writing for misanthropes, so don’t expect pretty advice on, say, what to do if you’re a misanthrope who gets stuck with some chick on Valentine’s day: “Be a terrible kisser. Stick your tongue in her mouth and leave it there like a forgotten umbrella”.)
The problem with life is, ultimately, not that it’s bad, but that being around other people almost invariably just sucks. And, since taking the Heraclitean approach isn’t much of an option, in order to feed and clothe ourselves, etc., etc., he have to do the whole ‘people’ thing, which means we need jobs. As our intrepid authors point out, “work pays the rent and homeless shelters are usually communal”. So, what’s a misanthrope to do? Become a long-haul trucker or a night watchman. Sure, that’s good advice, but remember, for the misanthrope, there are no safe bets. I had an ideal job in college one summer: I was the campus’ nighttime operator. From three to midnight, it was just me and a phone that never rang. I was almost…happy. Then a classmate found me and started calling. Every day. To chat. What was once a haven became a prison. I flinched every time the phone rang. Fortunately, The Misanthrope’s Guide gives us all sorts of ways of coping with these sorts of situations. Most of us already know them, but if you have to give a gift to someone who’s idea of a good time is calling just to say ‘hi’ for three hours, give them The Misanthrope’s Guide and hope they get the hint.
The Monday Murder Club’s A Miscellany of Murder: From History and Literature to True Crime and Television, A Killer Selection of Trivia is right up my alley. Miscellany collects true life and fiction according to classification as lust, greed, envy, and so forth. Wonderful quotes on murder appear throughout the book, according to their relevance to this or that sin. Some are arresting and philosophically significant, such as the one from the poet, W.H. Auden, about society’s interest in addressing murder. Some are witty, such as those dry and economical quips from Alfred Hitchcock appearing on various pages.
The little quips and trivia from across the history of film, television, books, and plain old life barely conceal the pervasive fascination we have with the morality of death. We are primordially terrified of it, yet unable to look away. Miscellany of Murder satisfies both desires. The question is, which sin is which?
So, when you’re stumped for a gift, don’t forget about books — and clever, fun you look good and the recipient’s bookshelf look even better. Let’s stick it to those darned in-the-know people. Then again, they probably already know about these titles. They know about everything cool.