According to the people who track these things, there are roughly 170,000 new books published each year in the United States — an alarming percentage of which arrive, unbidden, at the L.A. Weekly office.
Each week, we'll offer a snapshot of a newish book that's caught our attention. Just as there's a lid for every crooked pot, surely, there's a reader for every one of these 170,000 books. This is our attempt to play matchmaker.
THE BOOK: How to Be a Person: The Stranger's Guide to College, Sex, Intoxicants, Tacos and Life Itself
THE WRITERS: Lindy West, Dan Savage, Christopher Frizelle, Bethany Jean Clement and the staff of The Stranger, the alt-weekly in Seattle.
THE BACKSTORY: The Stranger is one of the better, funnier alt-weeklies out there, and each year it puts out a special issue offering advice to college students. This short(ish) paperback is touted as “a collection of the best advice The Stranger can muster (it's pretty good!).”
THE STORY: There isn't a story in the sense of there being a plot, or even really a middle or and end. There is a beginning, which notes that new college students are alone for the first time in their life, and while they're excited “because you get to drink and bang people,” well, “secretly, you are also terrified.” Yep, it's a pretty good opening — and true.
There are then sections about getting along with roommates, sections about where to go to college if you're gay (not Brigham Young, not an idyllic campus in the middle of nowhere), and sections about what happens when you do various drugs (re: coke, they write, “regular use… tends to harden people's souls, making them selfish, aggressive, rude, and worse at everything”). There is also a 54-page round-up from Savage Love (Savage's syndicated sex column), which is also good, and mostly true, but feels a bit like filler.
DON'T READ THIS IF … You're a Republican. (In that case, the authors pretty much loathe you.) Or if you get upset about the stupid stereotypes that dog L.A. (According one section, helpfully titled “How To Get Along With Roommates Who Are Different From You,” the authors write, “Say that your college or university is located in Los Angeles, which means it is full of orange guys with muscles and hard hair, and girls wearing those tiny shorts that say 'LOOK AT MY ASSHOLE' across the buns. And also Ugg boots, and Malibu rum, and people who think a good career would be 'shock jock'…” Apparently, these smug Seattleites have never heard of UCLA.)
Also, don't read this if you already know how to be a person; the title is pretty accurate, and anyone who's ever lived through college, or traveled, will find little enlightenment here.
READ THIS IF … But just as you should not read this book if you already know how to be a person, you probably should read it if you don't. There are quite a few things in here that most college grads surely wish they'd realized at 18 (see: that bit about cocaine, the suggestion to drop out if you're floundering, the essay about “How to Get Over a Broken Heart”).
Also, while the excerpt from Savage Love may feel like filler to anyone who's read an alt-weekly, there are, alas, lots of kids out there who've never done so. And they should — not just are these newspapers worth reading, but Savage is one of the wisest voices writing about sex today.
Really, this is a great book for someone who knows how to be a person to buy for someone who doesn't, especially if that clueless embryonic person already leans to the liberated, and the left. Otherwise, frankly, that clueless person is going to get a few words in and throw the thing away — which would be a big waste of the non-clueless person's $16.95.
A KEY QUOTE … From “How to Have a Conversation”: “Talking to people can be horrible (fuckin' people, all 'LET'S TALK!!!!'), but there are a few simple tricks that can make it easy. Nobody wants to hear about your dream. Nobody wants to hear about your dog. Nobody wants to hear about how you've noticed that some people say 'soda' and some other people say 'pop.' Instead, ask questions. Just questions. The only thing people love more than talking about themselves is LITERALLY NOTHING.”