The Geek Handbook and The Unofficial Hobbit Handbook

By JB Sanders

Reviewing these two books together is kind of fun. Although their covers would lead you to believe two very different things about them, they’re actually quite similar.

The Unofficial Hobbit Handbook purports to be a humor/trivia book, though it veers quietly towards a kind of hobbit-ish self-help book. The Geek Handbook, on the other hand, is very upfront about being a self-help book, but is also chock-full of great quotes and trivia about a wide variety of geek culture tidbits.

Together the books are a lot of fun.

My take away? Embrace being a geek, and setup your home like a Hobbit.*

The Unofficial Hobbit Handbook
Let’s start with what I feel is the weaker of the two: the Hobbit Handbook. It’s pretty fun, don’t get me wrong, but as either a humor/trivia book or a subtle self-help book, it feels a bit flat. The book includes an exhaustive discussion of the ways of Hobbits, and includes some amusing trivia. For example, just about every riddle from the books (including the Hobbit, of course) is reproduced, and a bunch more besides.

There’s a lot, I mean a LOT, of detail on food. As you’d expect. There are even some recipes, both humorous (Lembas pie crust! Savory garlic dragon!) and straight up (e.g. Waybread Blueberry Tart). There’s extensive advice on what to keep in the larder, and what to serve at every meal. Yes, all the meals are listed, along with when you should have them.

Where the self-help bits come in (besides keeping a well-stocked larder, which really everyone should know) is when it gets to discussing things like how to treat guests and how to talk to trolls. It’s terribly important to know how to talk to trolls, let me assure you.

On the trivia front, there’s quite a bit, but a diehard Tolkien fan probably won’t find much to sate them. Though knowing that Rivendell’s checkout time is 11am is terribly useful on those longer trips.

Look, if you’re going to cosplay a hobbit at a con — you have to buy this book. No question. There’s just every possible relevant detail in there, though the discussion on clothing (pg 130) is pretty darn light. But for everything else — pipe-smoking, travel tips, riddling — it’s a must.

The Geek Handbook
Although this is a self-help book, it’s really, really funny. It was worth reading just for the humor, good advice or not.

The Geek Handbook is a soup-to-nuts guide to being a geek, dealing with a geek or raising a geek. Really, all three! And it gives all this great advice using the “spoonful of sugar” method — and in this analogy humor is the sweet, sweet sugar. I had several laugh out loud moments, and I’m sure anyone familiar with geekiness will, too.

“Much like ice cream and Christopher Walken, geeks come in many different flavors.”

Sure, the discussion of stereotypical geeks is — you know, a stereotypical. But even when doing the cliche “type” discussion, Alex Langley (the author) does it with humor and a certain sensitivity. He both mocks the stereotype and discusses the valid bits at the same time. He uses this same technique on all sorts of topics throughout the book, too. On college majors, D&D gamer types, internet personas and the perennial Trek vs Wars camps.

I especially like the chapter on social interaction, and his advice for socially awkward people. Particularly the part on social cues, which was very well done.

There’s even a section on what to and what NOT to wear, with this priceless footnote on sweatpants:

“The only exception to this are guys who are so well endowed that sweatpants are pretty much the only pants that fit them comfortably, or people who are getting laid so much that pants are almost an afterthought. However, unless you’re Jason Stackhouse, you may not need to worry about such things, and if you are Jason Stackhouse, I feel it’s my duty to let you know that your sister has porked a lot of vampires.”

Then there are things like the hairstyles discussion. I swear, this part is practically worth the price of the book by itself.

The styles are in the section on grooming, named for the fictional character they resemble most. Some examples:

The Tony Stark: heavy on bangs and don’t forget the goatee.

The Rogue: longish hair, with that front-facing dual strips of grey.

The Professor X: bald, of course.

There are more, and each is rated on Complexity, Coolness if Done Right and Likelihood You’ll Look Like a Jackass.

For all the humor and advice, there’s also some great stuff to explore on your own, like his picks for best webcomics (broken into several categories), and the ten movies every geek should see.

I heartily recommend it, although obviously you should buy the e-book version, for maximum geekiness. (You might want to slip your favorite clueless relative a paper copy for Holiday X.)

* Though you may also want to invest in a gym membership, if you’re going to seriously eat like a Hobbit.

About John:
John’s a geek from way back. He’s been floating between various computer-related jobs for years, until he settled into doing tech support in higher ed. Now he rules the Macs on campus with an iron hand (really, it’s on his desk).

Geek Credentials:
RPG: Blue box D&D, lead minis, been to GenCon in Milwaukee.
Computer: TRS-80 Color Computer, Amiga 1000, UNIX system w/reel-to-reel backup tape
Card games: bought Magic cards at GenCon in 1993
Science: Met Phil Plait, got time on a mainframe for astronomy project in 1983
His Blog: http://glenandtyler.blogspot.com