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By "Guido Veloce"
Illustration by Gilbert Ford

What's with a recent run of books that insult the reader's intelligence? OK, that doesn't narrow the field much. The ones I have in mind don't require opening the book: The insult is on the cover. It seems as if every shelf in every bookstore now has at least one item for "Dummies," as well as titles from a competing series of self-help books aimed at the "Complete Idiot."

Recently, I ran a search on "dummies" and "idiot" on the Web site of an Internet bookseller, not the one named after large, female warriors. The results were stunning. "Dummies" yielded 5,040 items. (The Dummies books Web site listed a more modest 300+ titles.) "Idiot" turned up 5,136 hits, although Dostoevsky padded the latter figure, as did lesser masterpieces like one that included "idiots" in a 33-word title beginning Bright Lights, Big Ass. Even subtracting such classics, there are a lot of books written for dummies and complete idiots. Some even admit it in the title.

The topics covered in the Dummies and Complete Idiot series are wide and wonderful. My search, for example, turned up Geocaching for Dummies. I'm such a dummy that I don't know what "geocaching" is. I do know what Kittens for Dummies is about and hope the first sentence is, "They grow up to be cats." Some of the subjects require no comment (Athletic Scholarships for Dummies), while others were somewhat baffling. It isn't clear to me that we need The Pocket Idiot's Guide to Performance Appraisal Phrases, or what kind of performance is being appraised, although I like the concept of a "pocket idiot." On the other hand, the popularity of The Complete Idiot's Guide to American Government could explain a lot of voting behavior. And forget The Joy of Sex — too highbrow — when there is The Complete Idiot's Guide to Amazing Sex. (To paraphrase Tina Turner, "What's brains got to do with it?") In my search the book immediately following the Guide to Amazing Sex was Catholicism for Dummies. Search engines are becoming very sophisticated.

My hit-and-miss research uncovered some welcome absences in the Dummies and Complete Idiots series. As yet, there is no Dentistry for Dummies or Aviation for Idiots. I also couldn't find a Talk Show Hosting for dummies or idiots, but they've cornered that market anyway.

One of my grievances against these books is how they affect readers who aren't helped by them. My personal experience is that if "Microsoft" is in the title "dummies" doesn't cut it. I need something for "sub-morons."

But my real grievance against the Dummies and Complete Idiot series is that I didn't come up with the idea first. In common with my colleagues, I write for "the small number of people who care about this stuff" series. As a consequence, we're happy when royalty checks break into double digits.

No more. For the consideration of potential investors, I'm proposing a series that would push the concept further. It would not play on readers' intellectual shortcomings. Instead, we'll go for their character shortcomings.

Some such works might have a relatively specialized audience — Ponzi Schemes for the Ethically Challenged comes to mind — but then again, how popular is "geocaching"? You don't need to sell a lot of copies of any one title, just have lots of titles on the market. Even so, there are potential bestsellers, too. Think about the wide audience for The Sociopath's Guide to Simulating Sincerity (chapters on "Sounding Like You Mean It" and "Blaming Victims"); or The Scum Also Rises: A Success Manual for the Abysmally Incompetent ("Obfuscation Made Simple," "Procrastination Is Power," "Not Deserving Doesn't Mean Not Demanding"); or The Revenge of Cooking: Cuisine for the Passive-Aggressive Host ("Fifty Tricks to Play on Vegetarians," "Entertaining with Organ Meat," and "It Only Looks like Caviar").

If no one is interested in bankrolling this project, I have another resource, available on discount at $17.99: Self-Publishing for Dummies.

"Guido Veloce" is a Johns Hopkins University professor.

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