Wednesday, May 28, 2008

New This Month: How to be Useful by Megan Hustad

The trouble with saying that a book is “unerringly hip” is that the people you most want to attract with that phrase are likely to be put off by it. In a way, that’s the subtext of this “… handbook for a new -- and slightly cynical -- generation” in former editor Megan Hustad’s not very cynical debut, How to Be Useful: A Beginner’s Guide to Not Hating Work (Houghton Mifflin).

All of the things that make this book silly have nothing to do with the book itself. Stripped of all the marketing gewgaws, How to Be Useful is pretty terrific: a good idea well-executed.

Hustad has gone through all the self-help classics (“success literature”) with a fine-toothed 21st century comb. She looked at various versions of Emily Post through Dale Carnegie’s classic How to Win Friends and Influence People to less well known tomes like Napoleon Hill’s How to Raise Your Own Salary and even seemingly irrelevant, reasonably recent bestsellers like Stephen R. Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

She went through them and distilled them and essentially pulled out the stuff that made them great in the first place -- what truths they unveiled, what zeitgeists they touched upon -- and translated them for a generation that gets “spoon-fed cranked-up sardonic posturing every time you turn on the television.”

In her own words, Hustad took the most compelling American success books of the last 100 years “and turned them upside down and shaken out every last bit of wisdom that might be useful to those low on the office totem pole today.”



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