It’s not all the books that purport to tell you all you need to know about Microsoft Excel or the Missing Manual for the iPod, although I do question the utility of a thousand page tome about an MP3 player. No, the thing that annoys me are those friendly looking yellow and black books that are marketed at Dummies.
Why would I object to a series of books that tries to make a complex subject clear and approachable?
My opposition is not the content. The books that I have seen tend to have a better word-to-picture ratio than many of the competition. Many publishers seem to think that printing a number of large, colour screenshots is a good substitute for incisive and entertaining writing. Sorry, it just isn’t.
Neither is my objection with the level they are aimed at. I have no problem with someone not knowing much about any given subject — we’re all in that boat from time to time. I can’t honestly say that I’ve ever bought a book on how to use a specific application, but that’s not to say that I can’t see any need for such a category.
And, it’s not even the quality of the information contained in them. I would have to concede that some of the Dummies Guides are not half bad. I got my dad a book on Microsoft Word and it seemed to be aimed at just about the right level. It included plenty of hint and tips, just the kind of thing that might trip up the unwary.
It’s not even the cutsey presentation. I can’t say that I’m a big fan of the array of icons that draw out important details, but, frankly, it needs doing somehow and the style is obviously attractive to many.
So what is it?
It’s the title. To me, the word “dummy” and the kind of person that it appeals to suggests a particular attitude of the reader. It says that not only does the reader not know the subject, but is actually proud of the fact. I just hate the idea that people are satisfied that they don’t know something. Why be proud of ignorance?