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June 20, 2010

Sunday Book Thread: DIY Books

Most people don't think of these books as "books" in the usual sense; they fall below magazines and newspapers in the reading heirarchy. I'm speaking, of course, of the broad genre of how-to or do-it-yourself (DIY) books.

The first category of DIY books is, naturellement, the cookbook. My favorite (and has been for years) is The Fannie Farmer Cookbook. My copy is over 20 years old and is falling apart -- grease-spotted, pages falling out, cover torn, sections underlined and annotated. The Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book is another good one. I'm a fan of plain, down-home, meat & taters fare, and these cookbooks serve my needs quite well. These cookbooks aren't for the people who want fancy, frou-frou kinds of meals; and the seafood sections aren't the best. But for plain old Americana, these are the best cookbooks I've found. I also like the Scout's Outdoor Cookbook for when I'm camping. For wild game, I'm liking The Nuge's Kill It and Grill It!. It's a novelty, and I'm sure the novelty will wear off eventually, but I've gotten some good wild-game meals out of it.

I generally buy a Chilton manual for any car I'm driving at the moment. They're like the manual you should have gotten but didn't get when you bought the car. The older ones were in general better than the newer ones, though -- when cars started to get more computerized and electronically-complicated, the Chilton guides started to fall off a bit in quality. I think the last really good series was published around 1985 or so, though newer ones are still very useful. Even if you're not a fix-it person yourself, these manuals are very valuable for finding parts and accessories after years have gone by because they have all the dimensions and part-numbers.

For small engines -- lawnmower, weed-whacker, rototiller, etc. -- the best generalized manual I've found is the Briggs & Stratton book. There are others out there, but this one struck me as being the best for an average-skill person to pick up. I use it for routine maintenance rather than major repairs, though. There are shop manuals for most small engines, but few are as good as the Briggs & Stratton.

For general home-repair stuff, I like Black & Decker's Guide To Homeowner Basics. In fact, the whole Black & Decker series of books is pretty good: well-illustrated, with clear writing that doesn't assume advanced carpentry or plumbing skills or ownership of complicated tools. I am not a Mr. Fix-It, but I do try to do the simpler stuff so I can keep my man-card.

For computer maintenance and/or repair...I can't really recommend any good ones. They all suck to varying degrees. You're better off finding a trusted computer-geek friend or reputable local business if you're not comfortable poking around in the innards of your machine. (DO NOT go to a place like Best Buy; that Geek Squad bullshit is the biggest fraud in the world. They'll charge you $50 to stick a RAM stick into a slot -- takes them about two minutes. Then they spend the rest of the day Hoovering your hard disk for private information. Lots of those guys are utter sleazeballs.) If you must have a computer-maintenance book handy, you'd probably do best with Scott Mueller's Upgrading and Repairing PCs. Fair warning, though: it's not for noobs.

If you're a hunter, or want to become one, I'd recommend picking up a field-dressing guide. I'd recommend James Smith's Dress 'Em Out. It's come in handy more than a few times.

If you're a shooter, you'll probably also want a copy of The Shooter's Bible and a cleaning and maintenance manual for your specific firearm(s). (There are lots of really good third party books on most popular rifles and pistols. Shop around and find one you like, or ask around at the range.) If you're an avid shooter, you'll get into reloading at some point, and you'll probably want to pick up a book like Bill Chevalier's The ABC's of Reloading.

It always surprises me in a vague kind of way when I realize that the single most-read book in my house, one I go to again and again, is my Fannie Farmer cookbook. I've often thought that cookbooks ought to get literary prizes just like fiction and poetry too -- it's not easy to write a good cookbook.


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posted by Monty at 07:58 AM

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