Book Chat

Hello, and welcome to Book Chat. Each month in this column we give you brief reviews of new books. Unlike some of those long-winded book reviewers who drone on and on, Book Chat gives you just enough so that you can tell whether a book is one you want to read. This month, we review four new books in the Self-Help category. Our book rating scale has the following meanings:

* * *

Snuggling Without Touching -- A Male Guide to Feigned Intimacy, by Dr. Leonard Wilson (Houghton-Miffed, 280 pp, $12.95).

Too often, the male portion of a heterosexual couple does not achieve the level of sharing and closeness desired by his partner, but he has been frustrated by his past efforts to express his innermost feelings, largely because they concern motor oil or relief pitching. Thank goodness, then, for Snuggling Without Touching, the book that offers many valuable tips to men who wish to satisfy their mate's desire for intimacy, without actually engaging in any. Written in dialogue format, Dr. Wilson's careful academic tone is nicely contrasted with the direct style of Earl (identified only as Dr. Wilson's mechanic) in such chapters as:

I found this book a helpful tool in my own relationship. With a little of the book's suggested window dressing, my inherit shallowness and passivity was interpreted by my wife as depth and concern in one of those personal heart-to-huh? conversations she often thinks she's having with me. And Dr. Wilson's clear explanations put me in touch with feelings I had long ago forgotten, while Earl's invaluable tips showed me how to bury them for good, yet retain the ability to conjure their trappings. I'm as uninvolved and distant as ever, yet my wife thinks I'm Phil Donahue Jr.; that's why this publication gets three-and-a-half bookmarks.

* * *

Smart Women Who Love Too Many Men Who Hate Foolish Women, and the Men Who Love to Love Them and Their Enabling Choices of Empowerment, by Dr. H. H. Timmons (Addily-Wesson, 172 pp, $9.95).

I could only get through five pages before I could no longer suppress my urge to wing this book through the window. I wish only that the window had been open. No book-marks.

* * *

World-O-Values Coupons '05 (Modern Marketing, 644 pp, $35).

Despite having less plot and more characters than the Chinese alphabet, this volume is a quick, light read owing to its complete lack of story and sudden changes in mood and setting. One never knows what surprise lurks beyond the next page; just as I was enjoying the thought of two-for-one dining at several sit-down restaurants that have trouble attracting customers, I flip the page to find that there are not one, but three Waldo's Gristle Huts in town, and I can save fifty cents on each order of Sinew Strips with the purchase of a medium drink; that's the kind of tangible self-help more books of this genre ought to deliver.

This book can also save your Christmas (or the year-end gift-giving holiday of your choice) as it did at my house. Due to my meager wages from Book Chat, it looked like Santa was going to stiff my three little ones again last year. But World-O-Values coupon stocking-stuffers are a great gift for any frugal tyke, and also a great way to say "Santa knows about that F in Math, Timmy." In fact, I ended up using this book to fill all my gifting obligations, resulting in a net gift-given value of $1420.35, making last Christmas my most generous ever. This year, each child will get his own book. Not only does their sturdy square shape hold up to teething, tussles, and tantrums better than most volumes, these books are thick enough to stop a bullet from an errant drive-by, so not only will you save money, perhaps you'll save a child's life. Four bookmarks.

* * *

Cute Lies for Children: a Grownup's Guide to Easing the Pain of Childhood, by Harriet Huggems (Little Gray, 140 pp, $7.95).

As a parent, one of your greatest fears, aside from hosting a children's birthday party, is that you will handle a childhood trauma poorly, causing the incident to submerge and fester, possibly resurfacing in adulthood as drug abuse, a porn career, or an embarrassing string of serial killings.

Cute Lies for Children can prevent all that. The author realizes that reality can be a bitter and often confusing pill for young people to swallow. Therefore, she provides proven little-white-lies so that adults who are in the position of explaining life's occasional cruelties can offer instant explanations that make sense. The encyclopedic format makes it easy to find just the right words for any storm that rocks a child's boat.

For example, under Death, of Pet we find this soothing, easily-understood deception: "Don't cry, [child's name]. It's all part of God's plan; this is payback for that time you fibbed to Mommy." There, in simple terms, is an explanation any tot can comprehend. No need to get into murky discussions about the cycle of life, which invariably leads to still more questions needing complex answers. Under Nightmares we find this gem: "Those monsters are real, and they are attracted to the mess in your room like bugs to a porch light." In an instant, the child's world is transformed from a scary incomprehensible place to a place that is merely scary, and lifelong tidiness is effortlessly instilled. Three bookmarks.