Earlier today someone asked about what life skills people have, skills like knowing how to change a tire. I recommended a Readers’s Digest book that tells you how to do just about anything and that got me thinking of those books everyone should just invest in because they will simply make life easier. A few friends added some other suggestions, so here you go…a list of books that give you the information you need to make life work. And please, if you think something is missing, feel free to suggest additions to the list.

fixityourself manual by Reader's Digest

Reader’s Digest New Fix-It Yourself Manual
My copy is older than this one and I bet this one has some things to fix that were not in the old one. Things I have done just from the simple, illustrated instructions in this book include  replacing the plumbing in my kitchen, laying a new counter top, replacing the screen in my screen door, wiring an overhead light, fixing a lamp, and that’s off the top of my head.

Hilton's Repair Manual
Chilton’s Auto Repair Manual
If you have a car, you should buy a Chilton’s manual for your make and model. Even if you are not going to do your own tune-ups, it will inform you of the likely problems so you won’t be taken for a ride by unscrupulous auto repair shops. My dad was a mechanic and I loved the parts cleaner and helping in his shop, so I did not have much fear of the innards of a car. Still, thanks to the manual, I was able to replace the starter, ignition, fuel pump relay switch, alternator, fan belt, and other minor repairs in my VW lemon.


Fannie Farmer Cookbook

The Fannie Farmer Cookbook
You could choose other cookbooks, this is my favorite. It’s got Yorkshire Pudding, which is an essential for me. It helpfully assumes you don’t know anything and teaches you how to do everything from cutting meats, making sausages, and so much more.

I am on my second copy. I got my first one when I was in young, a prize in 4H. It fell apart and I eventually replaced it, though this one is showing wear and tear as well. This is a great book for novice cooks, which I was, but also for everyone because there are just so many recipes in it.





Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking

How do those cooks on television competitions do it? They open a packet on Chopped and whip up a pudding, a cake, a muffin, a custard. It’s not like they memorized a recipe for cricket souffle and lychee cupcakes. The reason they can cook anything without a cookbook is because they know the ratios. Know the ratios for bread and you can cook any bread. There are some recipes that illustrate the ratios, but the important lessons here are the ratios of cooking.

What is special about this book is that it gives you the foundation for experimental, inventive and creative cooking.


Chicago Guide to Grammar, Usage and Punctuation

The Chicago Guide to Grammar, Usage, and Punctuation

I know most people send you to Strunk & White’s Elements of Style, [free] but I like this more comprehensive guide. It is the style manual my college specified. Everyone should have a style manual for those moments when you’re unsure whether to comma or not to comma, should that be a semi-colon? S&W is more witty, I think this is more useful

For something free, there is this online guide. It’s British English, but the punctuation is not that different unless you are into debating the Oxford comma.



Dog Owner's Home Veterinary Handbook

Dog Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook
This book will allow you to worry less, spend less, and be a better dog owner. When I was in college, my golden lab suddenly started tossing his head and then passed out. I checked his mouth and found he had bit through a stick that wedged between his teeth so his tongue blocked his breathing. The inside cover of the book had instructions on CPR for dogs. It brought him back to life.  I had a neighbor who I had encouraged to buy this book who came pounding on my door one night, her dog was poisoned. We looked up what to do, knowing that intervention was necessary faster than going to the animal hospital. We forced her to throw up and took her to the hospital and were told that fast action saved her life. But, even better, there are times when you think you need to go to the vet, but you really do not need to, it’s something normal that will pass without intervention. When your pet is sick, it’s even more important.

Cat Owner's Home Veterinary Guide

Cat Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook

I don’t have a dog anymore, but I do have a cat and this book has been important to the health and well-being of my cats for many years. The book tells you early signs of bladder and kidney problems, something cats are prone to develop. I learned to pet my cats daily, pulling up a bit of skin to see how quickly it would snap back in place, stroking the lower belly to measure the size of the bladder. So, when my cat showed early signs of a bladder infection, I took her to the vet who was certain she was in perfect health. I asked for labs anyway and sure enough, she had a bladder infection, one caught before it did any kidney damage. She lived to be 23, without this book, I could have lost her at 14.


The Pearsall Guide to Successful Dog TrainingThe Pearsall Guide to Successful Dog Training

This book teaches you everything about dog training, from the basics to competition skills. I  trained my golden lab with this book. It is humane, logical, and dog-centric.

This is not about pack dominance and dog whispering with brute force, it’s about making training fun and sensible, about not confusing your dog, but using his own instincts and desire to please to train. Using this book, I taught Fudge to fetch a ball I tossed behind his back, giving him left and right directions, even when I tossed it in the lake. We could tell him to run down to Weigel’s to fetch something and he would bring it back. Tell him that this or that neighbor wanted to take him on a boat ride, we could just say their name and he would run down to their dock. He loved boat rides. Uncle Hubert lost his glasses in the woods and thought he would have to buy new ones, but we decided to ask Fudge to fetch them and he ran off into he woods and came back with the glasses. That is the kind of training this book provides. Now, a lab is easier to train than some species and hunting and fetching are in their nature, but this book works with all breeds.

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The following were books suggested by friends of mine in the course of our conversation about essential books. I have not yet read them, but I respect their judgment. It might be nice to include a book on personal finance, but they all seem to by written by grifters pushing their particular scheme or method. So instead I am including a link to this very anodyne online guide from the Wall Street Journal.

The Gift of Fear
The Gift of Fear
Two women suggested this book as an essential guide to being able to know when you should be afraid and when you should not. One wrote, “Gift of Fear is an amazing book. Read it. Study it. KNOW IT.” and the other wrote, “Learn to listen to your instincts and recognize danger, even when it’s not obvious.”

“True fear is a gift. Unwarranted fear is a curse. Learn how to tell the difference.” This is about following your intuition, reading the signs of imminent danger and know the difference between fear and paranoia.



98.6 Degrees, The Art of Keeping Your Ass Alive98.6 Degrees: The Art of Keeping Your Ass Alive

This is a survival book, not the Preppers kind of survival for a Zombie Apocalypse, but how not to die if you drive into the ditch during a blizzard or run out of gas in the desert.

Growing up in Minnesota, I know of too many people who have died in stupid situations. Forgetting to clear the tailpipe of snow when they turn on their car to warm it up while they’re stranger in the snow. Freezing to death in the parking lot of McDonalds or walking from the garage to the house, preventable deaths with good sense and preparation.

I’ve survived floods, tornados and being outside in a blizzard thanks to lessons from my parents, but I will put this on my reading list.

The Cornered Cat


The Cornered Cat: A Woman’s Guide to Concealed Carry

Statistically speaking, folks are safer without guns than with them. Research shows that just by holding a gun, a person is far more likely to mistake innocent objects for a gun. So, I am not comfortable with encouraging people to get a gun.

However, people will because people are people. Also situations differ, there may be good reason for a gun in some living situations, living in the middle of the woods surrounded by bears, for example. My CC friend recommends reading this before buying a gun. Perhaps it may persuade you to not buy a gun.


People also suggested other cookbooks. Fannie Farmer is my favorite, but that’s because it’s what I had when I began cooking. Other people have perfectly good options and you should use what you have and like, not buy something you don’t need and won’t use.

Joy of Cooking

How to Cook Everything