Image by Università Reggio Calabria, released under a C BY-SA 3.0 license.
In general, the how-to book—whether on beekeeping, piano-playing, or wilderness survival—is a dubious object, always running the risk of boring readers into despairing apathy or hopelessly perplexing them with complexity. Instructional books abound, but few succeed in their mission of imparting theoretical wisdom or keen, practical skill. The best few I’ve encountered in my various roles have mostly done the former. In my days as an educator, I found abstract, discursive books like Robert Scholes’ Textual Power or poet and teacher Marie Ponsot’s lyrical Beat Not the Poor Desk infinitely more salutary than more down-to-earth books on the art of teaching. As a sometime writer of fiction, I’ve found Milan Kundera’s idiosyncratic The Art of the Novel—a book that might have been titled The Art of Kundera—a great deal more inspiring than any number of other well-meaning MFA-lite publications. And as a self-taught audio engineer, I’ve found a book called Zen and the Art of Mixing—a classic of the genre, even shorter on technical specifications than its namesake is on motorcycle maintenance—better than any other dense, diagram-filled manual.