October 2005

The Experts' Guide to Life at Home
Samantha Ettus. Crown, $19.95 (352p) ISBN 0-307-23756-7

Ettus (The Experts' Guide to 100 Things Everyone Should Know How to Do) bases her book on a theme similar to that of Real Simple, that lovely magazine about streamlining your life. Each chapter unfolds as a series of mini-essays on the home life by experts, with the COO of a pest control company teaching how to prevent household pests, a field editor for Audubon explaining how to select and use a birdfeeder, Dr. Joy Browne offering suggestions for learning how to compromise, pediatrics professor Harvey Karp instructing on how to discipline your children, etc. The pieces are compact, and most have at least one 'take-away,' so it's easy to pick the book up, read for five minutes and glean some useful bit of info. On the downside, a few areas beg for a more in-depth explanation, and the vast array of advice covered means that there are some odd juxtapositions (e.g., 'increase your energy' is followed by 'secure a mortgage'). Still, few books can manage to instruct readers on selecting window treatments, making time for yourself and hosting a dinner party with such streamlined simplicity.

17 line drawings. (Nov.)

September 2004

The Experts' Guide to 100 Things Everyone Should Know How to Do
Samantha Ettus. Crown, $19.95

When it comes to changing a tire, scrambling eggs, telling a joke or doing laundry, Ettus is no expert. (She's just the president of a brand-management firm.) But for this guide, she tracked down people who are, and asked their advice on everyday tasks. So former White House social secretary Letitia Baldrige explains how to shake hands; make-up guru Bobbi Brown teaches how to apply lipstick; New York Times Company chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr. gives tips on reading a newspaper; and three-time U.S. Open winner Jennifer Capriati instructs readers on hitting a tennis ball.

For better or for worse, Ettus seems to have allowed each contributor to insert some personality into his or her offering. Accordingly, the explanation on how to make a bed, from Tracey R. Henderson, the Holiday Inn Select Executive Housekeeper of the Year 2003, ends with a hokey "Show someone else the job you've done so that they can pat you on the back," while the lesson on tying a bow tie, from Tucker Carlson, co-host of CNN's Crossfire and an avid bow tie enthusiast, concludes, "Consider whether you really want to do this.... When you wear a bow tie, people will make assumptions about you." The result is a guide that's alternately lighthearted and serious, a coffee-table book of the most practical sort. 30 line drawings.