Sunday, November 6, 2011

Is Elf-Help the best help? A Review

First, I'd like to point out that I don't think I'm the target audience of Shelly Mazzanoble's new book, Everything I Need To Know I Learned From Dungeons & Dragons.

However, despite that, this book is an absolute blast. It provides a nice bit of insight into one working woman's life, her trials and tribulations, with solutions filtered through the lens of D&D.

Let me put the above statement another way: This is an anecdotal 'self-help' book that uses D&D as a reference on how to deal with life.

Again, an anecdotal self-help book that uses D& a reference on how to deal with life.

No matter your opinion of Miss Mazzanoble or her works, I believe that the mere existence of such a book is a definite force for good in the universe.

I've said before that I feel that anything that encourages new people to give rolling polyhedrons and pretending to be elves a try is a wonderful thing. I'm now also saying that anything that belays and overcomes the stereotypes about D&D (and its players) is an even more wonderful thing.

Shelly's new book does both. It presents Dungeons & Dragons as being a tangible, understandable thing that also can have a positive impact on not only your own life, but the lives of everyone around you. In eight chapters it deals with a number of issues (dating, condo living, co-habitation, breaking out of routines, and living with children) with decidedly D&D-related solutions.

So, those are the reasons why Everything I Need To Know I Learned From Dungeons & Dragons is really good.

Here are the reasons you should buy it:

1) It's funny.

I laughed out loud several times while reading this book, which is more than I can say for any other self-help book I've ever read (a lot of which I just found kind of condescending). Shelly's prose may be a bit verbose at times (in fact, there's an entire chapter devoted to just that), but it is almost always funny. There isn't a chapter in this book that won't inspire a chuckle or two.

2) It's relatable.

While every chapter might not jump out and inspire you, making you shout "Yes! I totally had to deal with this exact same thing! You've torn the scales from my eyes!", there will at least be one or two that do. Many of Shelly's day-to-day issues and problems are ones that most men and women can relate to, or at the very least understand.

The one that really got to me was a later chapter on introducing D&D to children (something I've had to do myself with family members). The anecdote is told in a way that is immediately understandable to anyone who's tried to get a younger sibling, child, or friend to give D&D a try. It also showcases the realistic aftermath of such an endeavor, both good and bad (though mostly good, it's self help, after all).

Whether you're a seasoned Dungeon Master, or someone who has no idea what a d12 is, there's something in this book for you.

3) It's definitely not just for the D&D crowd.

My biggest criticism of a lot of D&D products is just how niche they are. Introducing the game to brand new players in accessible ways has never been something that D&D is good at. This book, however, might serve as a gateway for a brand new bunch of players who've been previously unfamiliar to D&D.

If you're looking to read a book exclusively about D&D, chock full of play-mat accounts and opinions on the minutia of the game itself, you'll be a little disappointed in the book (but don't worry). It is, however, filled with a lot of things that are appealing and fun outside of D&D, but still related to the game. Regardless of how tied it is to our favourite roleplaying game, this is still an engaging and fun read.

Shelly's second book reads much like her first; fun, frenetic, and filled to the brim with pop-culture references. If you don't know Dolce&Gabbana from Gossip Girl, you may be a bit lost at times, but very rarely. Also, the book is framed around a series of conversations between author/narrator Shelly and her mother, Judy. For those whose relationship with their own mothers are strained or distant, these sections might not be as resonant, but they are almost always an absolute riot to read.

Shelly spins a yarn that's half outsider and half true-believer when it comes to D&D. If you play D&D and are looking for a unique opinion of the game, you cannot do better than this. Fans of Ethan Gilsdorf's Fantasy Freaks & Gaming Geeks will find a lot to love about this little tome.

While the book has been written with a female audience in mind, it's just as accessible to men. If you or anyone you know is D&D-curious, or holds the game close to their heart, this book is a must have.

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