What should I learn to do this summer?
June 15, 2008 8:31 AM   Subscribe

What books can teach me skills that would be enjoyable or interesting to share with friends in group settings or one-on-one?

I thought it might be fun to spend the summer reading books that teach me how to do something. I want to be able to share, practice, and explore these things with a group of friends or with them individually. For example, I'd like to learn how to give a Swedish massage, apply special FX makeup, and give a (very basic) palm reading. Obviously it takes a great deal of study and practice to do these things well, but I'll leave that for later.

What other skills can be learned by reading a book? I'm especially looking for skills that won't require much equipment or capital investment on my part.
posted by HotPatatta to Education (11 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Card tricks? Magic?
posted by jayder at 8:39 AM on June 15, 2008

You can hone your thinking skills. Understanding science, its history, and how what we know changes who we are as a society has given me ample opportunities to engage friends on a broad level of topics. It's actually a lazy end-run around philosophy but it works. You can start here.
posted by wfrgms at 8:45 AM on June 15, 2008

Response by poster: And I'm not looking for obnoxious look-at-me skills. I want to learn things that my friends will enjoy just as much--or more--as I will.
posted by HotPatatta at 8:48 AM on June 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

Some "skills" that I've seen others acquire through reading and share with others. Let me also say that I've even observed co-workers flock to the person with the "skill" (I'm not saying that I believe in these, just that other people seemed to enjoy them):
--Tarot cards
--Palm reading
--Astrology (taking a date, plugging it into a chart, and reading and interpretting the chart)

There are other skills that you can probably develop with a bit of time and minimal reading. For example, playing a song or two on the guitar. I've also seen people with the ability to only play one song entertain other people for hours. This is something you can share with others if other people play instruments. Just get yourself a cheap guitar and a book with the fingering -- you can teach yourself how to play a basic song or two.

I've had a few friends teach themselves (also through reading) about wine and cooking. As a friend, it made it fun for me to sit down and have a great meal or hear more information about the great wine we were drinking!

I am also going to second wgfrms's suggestion. To be honest, if I have a friend that can discuss idea sin depth and provide other perspectives, that is when an exchange of ideas becomes enjoyable. However, they usually either have a lot of experience or have read a lot of material to provide that perspective. YMMV.

Have fun.
posted by Wolfster at 9:34 AM on June 15, 2008

Book: the Kama Sutra.
Friends: delighted.
posted by jaduncan at 9:45 AM on June 15, 2008 [3 favorites]

posted by zengargoyle at 11:35 AM on June 15, 2008

plant and insect/animal identification. wildflowers, edible plants, trees, and the critters that inhabit your region. it is not only useful--it never fails to interest the people i run into, no matter how young.
posted by RedEmma at 12:32 PM on June 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

It's computer based, not book based, and partly instructor led (for skills evaluation), but if those attributes aren't totally outside of your consideration, look into taking the Blended Learning First Aid/CPR/AED Program by the Red Cross. Knowing how to keep your friends alive in an emergency is pretty empowering.
posted by paulsc at 1:25 PM on June 15, 2008


Or, after you learned about local plants as RedEmma suggested, you could go berry-picking with your friends and then brew up some homemade wine!
posted by meadowlands at 7:05 PM on June 15, 2008

You should learn some speed math tricks. There are quite a few books on the topic.

Rapid Math Tricks & Tips: 30 Days to Number Power

More Rapid Math: Tricks and Tips: 30 Days to Number Mastery

Math Magic: How to Master Everyday Math Problems

Generally, I think people are quite amazed when you can do complicated multiplication in your head. And afterwards, you can then teach how to quickly calculate 15% and 20% tips in their head.
posted by Jasper Friendly Bear at 9:54 PM on June 15, 2008 [2 favorites]

This is kind of a weird one, but perhaps you could learn mediation techniques? Knowing how to deal with disagreements and how to help other people understand each other's point of view is a great way to prolong friendships and avoid negative conflict. I learned all my interpersonal stuff from people rather than books, so I can't really offer any book recommendations in that area.

Cooking is really fun. Rather than learning whole recipes, you could learn how to make the "building blocks" of recipes -- making curry paste or harissa from scratch, for example. Wikipedia has a list of herb and spice mixtures you can start from. They're generally easy to make (the main ingredient you need is time), the ingredients are usually fairly inexpensive, you can make them with friends in large quantities and then divide into plastic containers to take home. Finish off the evening by making a meal with the main dish based on the ingredient you just made.

Do you have friends who want to learn along with you? You could try this. It's a bit weird, but fun. Go to a good library, once with lots of books in varied sections (ideally the stacks of an academic library, but otherwise an extremely well stocked public library will work). Choose a section that you normally wouldn't go to or a topic you wouldn't normally look into. Now, relax and let yourself be "guided" towards a shelf. Use whatever technique you have to to make it sorta random. Don't scan the shelves, just let yourself drift to a section. Now do a quick look over the books immediately in front of you. Find one that looks interesting from the section and start reading it. I do this every so often to make sure that I don't get stuck in just one genre or area of knowledge. Basically, once I've wandered to a spot I really give it a chance; sometimes I even commit myself to taking a book from that shelf, no matter what (if I happen to have stumbled onto a shelf filled with books in Urdu or something, I let myself go again). By following this bizarre practice, I have encountered books about ape psychology, dueling nobility in the 16-17th centuries, the early days of the telegraph, legal norms in Roma society, the basics of blacksmithing, and more. I didn't even finish most of the books, but all of them are interesting (did you know that Roma often have two sets of dishes? One for themselves and one for outsiders...and although chimps will follow your gaze if they see you are looking at something, they do not realize that you actually "see"). If you do this with others you can all meet up with your discoveries and then read together somewhere, sharing the odd new knowledge you have learned.
posted by Deathalicious at 10:28 PM on June 16, 2008

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