Title: "1,001 Things They Won’t Tell You: An Insider’s Guide to Spending, Saving, and Living Wisely"
Authors: Jonathan Dahl and the editors of Smart Money, The Wall Street Journal Magazine
Publisher: Workman Publishing, 2009; 544 pages; $16.95 list ($11.53 on Amazon.com)
Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not actually following you, goes the adage. Similarly, I found with "1,001 Things They Won’t Tell You: An Insider’s Guide to Spending, Saving, and Living Wisely," just because the premise of the book is paranoid, doesn’t mean it doesn’t actually have lots of useful, consumer protection-type information. Enough with the double negatives already — even though I believe the genre of tip compendiums charading as conspiracy busters is borderline passé, I found some valuable tidbits in this book, and I think the average reader will, too.
Based on the author’s "Ten Things They Won’t Tell You" column in Smart Money Magazine, "1,001 Things" sets out to be an exhaustive encyclopedia of need-to-knows compiled from the perspective of what the purported experts and insiders don’t want you to know, rather than the normal lists of what they do want you to know.
As you might expect from Smart Money Magazine, the book is very well organized into categories that are meaningful to the normal person, with sections on "Your Family," "Your Home," "Food & Drink" and "Medical & Dental" (not to be confused with the chapter on "Mind & Body," the inclusion of which I thought was a significant acknowledgement of what Americans really care about — I mean, who doesn’t want to know the "10 Things Your Weight Loss Program, Your Fitness Club and Your Therapist won’t tell you"?!). Other cool categories included "Things Your iPod, Bloggers and even Celebrity Chefs" are keeping in the closet, according to Dahl.
With that said, I did find that once you really started reading the lists for an area that you know something about, a good number of the "things" that our vendors allegedly don’t want us to know were more like straw man arguments or even worse, quasi-dangerous stereotypes, perpetuated to fill the space in the list.
For example, the books section on real estate brokers almost blew my head entirely off my neck. While I do understand that there are some crooked brokers among us, I was more than a little outraged at the idea that real estate brokers in any number are sitting at office meetings, rubbing their hands together as they scheme to hide lowball offers from our own seller clients ("to hold out for a bigger commission") or to find crooked inspectors who will pretend that termites don’t exist to avoid blowing a deal.
Maybe my outrage arises from the fact that I’m constantly talking with and reading letters from real estate professionals who spend their days trying to talk their sellers into a reality-based (read: lower) concept of what their home is actually worth, folks who would never fail to present any offer to their seller, no matter how low, just on general principle. Maybe it comes from the fact that I myself maintain — and refer my buyers to — a list of inspectors who have repeatedly found defects and infestations that were "missed" by other inspectors. …CONTINUED
Either way, I found myself wondering what if I knew more about preschools? Would I have the same outrage about the "Things Preschools Won’t Tell Me"? What about country clubs? Are those "Things They Won’t Tell Me" really valid concerns?
On other items, I found myself thinking: "But they did tell me that!" Personal trainers do tell clients that they are not nutritionists. Dry cleaners do post signs saying they might lose your shirt. Other times, I thought, "Now, they might not have told me that, but that’s just common sense." I mean, if you don’t know that the samples at the farmer’s market have a similar bacteria count to that bowl of nuts on the bar in a nightclub, well, you’re just not thinking straight!
And one more thing: I kept sensing that there was a more than a little fear-mongering going on in this book. Case in point — Chapter: "Things Your Orthodontist Won’t Tell You." Item: "Someone Else Might Have Worn These Braces Before You Did." The item describes a single company in America that recycles orthodontic metals, then caveats that most orthodontists don’t use recycled braces, no matter how hygienic, because of the "gross out" factor. And that was not an isolated instance in the book.
While the Realtor and the pragmatist in me struggled to even peruse the book, because of the constant mental objections to what I was reading, the consumer in me did cull the occasional tidbit of important information I hadn’t seen elsewhere. I tried to make myself get a grip — this guy is trying to present consumer advocacy information in a fun format. Perhaps I was taking things too literally and being overly serious with respect to my running mental critique. So, I’ll give him that: This book presents a mix of common-sense wisdom and the occasional interesting, novel point of knowledge (and sometimes, of concern) about the various industries that impact our pocketbooks and our lives, in a lighthearted voice — for that, I give the effort kudos.
No matter how hard I tried, though, I couldn’t turn off the concern that a number of these "things" were potentially harmful stereotypes or isolated issues blown up beyond all proportion, warranting that the advice provided herein be taken with a grain of salt and researched more intensely, before acted upon.
Tara-Nicholle Nelson is author of "The Savvy Woman’s Homebuying Handbook" and "Trillion Dollar Women: Use Your Power to Make Buying and Remodeling Decisions." Ask her a real estate question online or visit her Web site, www.rethinkrealestate.com.
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