(Self) help yourself

I love guidelines. I can't help but see all sides of a situation— which I suppose makes me a pretty natural journalist-- but I'm fascinated when people have opinions and stick to them. There's just something magnetic about someone who takes a stand and delineates how things should and should not be.

Often, these guidelines are found in books with pretty covers that teeter on the brink of the "self-help" category, so I remove the dust jackets when reading them on public transportation. But I mean, I should get over the whole stigma. I do think it's a good thing to seek advice and interesting opinions in an effort to keep changing—the Japanese have been doing it for years, and they seem pretty on point, you know?

So, in an effort to come out of the self-help-seeking closet, some examples of books that may or may not be on the bookshelf in my bedroom, hidden behind the 'Economist Guide to Analysing Companies' and other more serious-seeming tomes:

Having it All
Having it All: Love, Success, Sex, Money Even If You're Starting With Nothing
by Helen Gurley Brown

Name-drop alert: I've met HGB-- twice.  She's basically the self-made mother of the modern women's magazine (well, the good kind-- that's another post for another day)-- and she is totally bad ass.  She worked her way up being an entry-level copywriter in her early thirties to being the editor-in-chief that made Cosmopolitan the crazy-sexy-cool magazine it was for so many years. At 86 years old, she still goes to the office at the Hearst Building every day for work (she's the international editor for all 59 foreign editions of Cosmo) and she will always be the one in the shortest skirt and the brightest outfit, looking amazing.

I picked up a copy of this book at a used book store and, let me just say-- they don't make 'em like this anymore, and that is a damn shame.  She doesn't mince any words and is actually honest and not at all P.C. about her take on what it takes to make it-- such a departure from the bland, "early-to-bed, early-to-rise" tips you find in most books like this.  Plus, it's a hoot to read.

A Guide to Elegance: For Every Woman Who Wants to Be Well and Properly Dressed on All Occasions
by Genevieve Antoine Dariaux

I don't exactly set my watch by this book, obviously, since some of the advice is un peu dated (like always wearing gloves and hats during the daytime.)  I mean, its excusable: Mme. Dariaux, who was for years the directrice at the house of Nina Ricci in Paris, first wrote Elegance in 1964.  I really just love the book's tone, especially the black-and-white way she looks at things-- it kind of reminds me of my Grandma Taylor, who is always suggesting I tie a sweater around my shoulders and is prone to saying things like "red shoes go with everything."

An excerpt from the chapter entitled "Accessories":
"... in this regard I cannot restrain myself from expressing the dismay I feel when I see a woman carry an alligator handbag with a dressy ensemble merely because she has paid an enormous sum of money for it.  Alligator is strictly for sports or travel, shoes as well as bags, and this respected reptile should be permitted to retire every evening at 5 P.M."

I love it.

Esquire Magazine, May 2008 Issue: The 75 Skills Every Man Should Master
By Tom Chiarella

For Esquire's 75 anniversary issue, the magazine put together a list of 75 things every guy oughtta be able to do.  Needless to say, I love this kind of stuff-- and Chiarella puts together this great list with equal parts humor and straight-faced seriousness about being a man.  Some favorites:

5. Name a book that matters.
'The Catcher in the Rye does not matter. Not really. You gotta read.'

21. Argue with a European without getting xenophobic or insulting soccer.

37. Shuffle a deck of cards.

'I play cards with guys who can't shuffle, and they lose. Always.'

48. Remove a stain.

'Blot. Always blot.'

58. Avoid boredom.

'You have enough to eat. You can move. This must be acknowledged as a kind of freedom. You don't always have to buy things, put things in your mouth, or be delighted.'

There's definitely one thing that I would have added to the list: drive a manual transmission. I'm kind of weirdly focused on that being a skill that every man (and woman) should have. Anything else?