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Book Review: How Not to Be a Dick by Meghan Doherty

Let’s get the obvious out of the way, shall we: The book has the word Dick right there in the title.  And yes, it says it a lot inside the book.  It’s a problem, particularly for school librarians.  I asked Robin and she said no, she would not in fact be purchasing this book for her library.  Fair enough, she is a middle school librarian and you can argue that this is not the target audience.

Here’s what you need to know: This book title and its approach actually taps into a pretty big pop culture trend.  Yes, many adults will hate it, but what are you going to do? *shrugs*  None other than Mr. Wil Wheaton himself has made it his personal campaign to help people not be a dick.  And there is even a Don’t Be a Dick Day.  And the message IS in fact a good one: be kind to others, do the right thing.  That’s why this book is an etiquette guide, and it has good information.
The objective of HNtBaD is pretty straight forward: “Remember that we’re all in it together.  Remember to take a breath and think of those around us” (p.9)  It’s a message we can all get behind.  Also, yes, please do excuse yourself from the table if you must break wind (complete with fun illustrated picture – there are fart clouds).
But let’s talk packaging.  Not gonna lie, this book is clever and cute.  It has a retro-50s vibe to it with its animations.  Think Dick and Jane (get it – Dick).  It reminds me of these old school ads (but without the retrograde sexism):
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8IwDwmTXaAE]

Will that resonate with teen readers?  That is questionable, but this is not aimed specifically at teen readers.  In fact, there are entire chapters on how not to be a dick at work.  In my 20 years working, I have worked with some people who could have read this book.  And I am sure I have worked with people who would have liked to highlight a few sentences and leave it sitting around on my desk.  There are some good nuggets of information in here.  My favorite discusses the communal refrigerator in the breakroom: “No matter how much better it is than your soggy sandwich, don’t eat other people’s lunch from the fridge” (p.98)  Word.  This is where there is a bit of disconnect for me, I think the people who would get and appreciate the fun, clever packaging context are probably older readers, while the content is often geared to younger adults, particularly the sections on school.  But then again, maybe they don’t need to understand the meta because the humor, writing style and companion art comes through loud and clear.

Side note: I asked the group of tween and teen girls sitting in my house doing their nails and they did not know who Dick and Jane were and they also didn’t understand why the illustrations would be funny.  Also, my tween has been scandalized by having this book sit around the house, she assures me and will not bring herself to say the title.  But I also know plenty of teens that would be pick this book up solely because of the title and maybe learn a little nugget here and there through their titters.

I liked this book; it was clever in its packaging and delivery while providing some solid information that a lot of teens and young adults (we’re talking people in their 20s here) could use.  There is some good discussion about bullying, interacting with others, and being online.  Really, it is useful information.

So would I buy the book for my public library? I would.  But I would put it in the adult nonfiction collection.

GIVEAWAY NEWS: I have a copy to give away.  Leave a comment by the end of the week, September 28th, and I’ll draw one winner.  Be sure to leave a follow back or return email so I can get a hold of you.  Open to U.S. residents.