Sunday, January 4, 2009

Book Review: 211 Things Any Clever Girl Can Do

At long last, I am forcing myself to sit down and write the review for this book. When I first read it several months ago, I found myself comparing the book to the some of light, inoffensive sitcom or romantic comedy I sometimes turn on when I am cooking dinner or cleaning my apartment. It is a pleasant diversion and keeps things from being too quiet, but it isn't all that engrossing or thought-provoking. Although my reread of the book for this review confirmed my earlier reaction, it also helped me figure out why I found this book simultaneously amusing and forgettable.

Like many books that have come before it, Bunty Cutler's 211 Things Any Clever Girl Can Do offers advice for surviving life. It is in the same vein as The Daring Book For Girls in that much of the advice seems to hearken back to a more innocent period, one in which knowing how to churn butter might be practical knowledge rather than just interesting trivia to use as filler during a cocktail party. Cutler's book even uses old-fashioned illustrations of young women in dress popular during the earlier part of the 20th century. However, not all of the advice given has to do with anachronistic knowledge. Besides churning butter, pruning tea, and figuring out if a man likes you, Cutler also offers tips on getting out of a car without showing your underwear (one wonders if Britney Spears and other celebutantes have read this book) and dealing with telemarketers. There are also more whimsical sections on making a macrame bikini, swinging on a trapeze, and giving yourself a Brazilian wax (there are some things that are probably best left to experts).

If these activities sound rather random and unrelated, it is because they are. Although Cutler arranges the book in sections such as "Life of the Party" and "Fun and Games," the juxtaposition of helpful tips (French braiding hair and removing stains) with more fanciful advice (riding an ostrich and curtsying) makes for an occasionally disconcerting and frustrating read. While the book is a lot of fun, this "everything and the kitchen sink" approach may not be the best way of giving advice (The Daring Book for Girls is considerably more cohesive because it opted to focus more on old-fashioned activities). Consequently, if you are looking for some helpful tips and don't mind an incongruous mixture of practical and fanciful advice, then you might enjoy 211 Things Any Clever Girl Can Do. However, if you are looking for a single guidebook to help you (or someone else) navigate the perils of modern living, you may want to look elsewhere.