I’m not trying to be a big shot or anything, but I do have an autographed copy of this book. Scott Meyer even personalized his signature, writing that he hoped I enjoyed the book. With a felt-tip pen. (I mean that’s what he wrote with, not that’s what he hoped I enjoyed the book with. I think.)
This is almost embarrassingly personal, as personalizations go, but I wanted to share it anyway.
So. “Basic Instructions” comics are exactly what they sound like: helpful tips to guide the reader through tricky situations. Each tip in the four-panel comic is accompanied by an illustrated conversation.
Usually Meyer has fun contrasting the problem in question as a straight-man with the comic itself. The text of “How to Help Someone Confront Their Prejudices,” for instance, is serious and includes actual good advice:
“Prejudices are counterproductive and ugly. The sad fact is, we all have them. ...Your best bet is to produce examples and evidence that gently prove your point.”
So, what kind of prejudices are the characters in the comic (always Scott Meyer and a friend, coworker, or his long-suffering wife) arguing about? Racism? Sexism? Anti-Semitism?
“Windows might be an okay operating system, but I can’t use it. Bill Gates is such a jerk.”
Meyer’s reply to this is brilliantly disconcerting: “If you’re gonna refuse to use a product because the founder of the company was a jerk, you’re gonna have to stop using...products.” (Ellipses in the original.)
Meyer goes on to point out: “If you won’t use anything produced by a jerk, you can’t drive a Ford, talk on a telephone, or use anything invented by Edison.” “Edison?” “The man used to electrocute animals.” “Well, science--” “As a marketing gimmick.” “Yeesh! What a jerk.”
This gives a good sense of the pacing, humor, and general nerdiness of the comic. It’s not the funniest one in the collection, of course. The funniest one might be the one where Scott’s boss complains that his cell phone was stolen. “Your phone was taken by someone who would want a pink RAZR. Meaning the phone was taken by you, or a thirteen-year-old girl.” “There has to be another option,” the boss protests. “Could’ve been you AND a thirteen-year-old girl. I doubt you could pull this off on your own.”
Or maybe the funniest one is “How to Understand Men’s Fashion,” which I love because Scott Meyer and my teenage son both only ever wear black T-shirts. Meyer insists this isn’t technically the case, because he owns shirts that are “Dark charcoal. Ultra-dark blue. X-treeme gray.” (yes, all those E’s are in the original.) His female coworker replies, “Your closet must look like a rainbow, re-imagined by Tim Burton.” I intend to say this to my son as soon as I finish writing this review.
Or maybe the best one in this collection is “How to Be a Good Husband During ‘Ladytimes,’” if only because I am a nine-year-old boy and the word “ladytimes” cracks me up. (Which is good, since something about ladytimes should make me happy.)
Okay, okay. They’re all good. And I have to add that although Meyer doesn’t generally aim for sweetness, he hits it in “How to Avoid a False Bargain,” in which his friend bought some factory-second perfume for his girlfriend’s birthday. He says this is fine, because “It’s perfume. Its job is to smell good.” Scott replies, “No, it’s a gift. Its job is to make your girlfriend happy.”
I just thought that was really sweet. Even when he went on to suggest that the guy might instead buy her “some factory refurbished chocolates.” (I’m pretty sure he was being sarcastic.)
So: read this book, or at the very least, check out the comic at basicinstructions.net
And while you’re over there, tell Scott I’m still giggling and blushing over his inscription in my book. (A felt-tip pen! You rascal!)