Book Review: All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten

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I had expected a charming anthology of personal narratives, but instead, what I got was one of the worst books I’ve ever tried to finish (I made it to page 120; I tried to skim after that, but felt my time, and my brain, wasting away). What’s more, the title had nothing to do with the book. The author simply used it to get people to buy it—a classic “bait-and-switch.”

The first thing I read (after the synopsis) when I open a book is the copyright, no matter the genre; the first printing of this was in 1986.

I can’t imagine it was any better then.

*

I remember this man’s list from grade school years ago, printed on a poster and taped to a cinderblock, public school wall. I’d thought it cute then, but even though it was memorable in a benign sort of way, I find parts of it problematic now.

Now rather than regurgitate/retype the list, as other reviewers have done, I will just point out a few things: Share everything. Immediately, I was thinking, um, no. You don’t share your spouse, your prescription medications, or unsolicited advice.

As for take naps, the clarifier should have been as needed. If I lie down for a nap, it’s at least four hours gone. Better to go to bed early and get all your rest that way because in the real world working a full-time job, you don’t get nap breaks (you’re lucky to get a coffee/smoke break), and power naps have always made me feel worse. Time spent outside, even if the weather is lousy, is what rejuvenates me. (And going to sleep—not just to bed—early enough to get at least eight hours.)

Wash your hands before you eat. (That should be every time you go to the bathroom, before and after cooking, et cetera, et cetera; otherwise, you’re only washing your hands three times a day.)

Of course, I can think of many more, such as Keep your hands to yourself. That goes beyond just don’t hit people.

But, that’s just one example.

What’s more, I’m not sure what the author meant when he said the biggest word of all is look, as I could think of better ones, like imagine. This is a classic case of when the author knows what he’s talking about but cannot convey that to the reader.

There was some good advice, like Be aware of wonder and Flush. (I think “if you sprinkle when you tinkle, be a sweetie and wipe the seatie” is a good one, but this book was written by a man, after all.) Better advice would be to flush at least as many times as the job number was.

That said, this was not enough to save the book. (I did, however, share his nostalgia for the 64-pack of Crayola crayons with the built-in sharpener.)

*

A good writer can write about ordinary things in an extraordinary way, but this read like a personal journal—very random and stream of consciousness-like. None of the chapters had titles, some sentences (or fragments) were written in all caps (no need to scream, that’s what exclamation points are for), and the anecdotes were anything but anecdotal. It’s like “I saw a gum wrapper on the bus today,” and then that’s it.

He tried with some metaphors (like a box of Cheer), but none of them worked.

None.

*

The author is a minister, but I got a weird vibe. He talks about teaching his toddling grandson dirty jokes. Huh?

He liked to talk about lawn care, and some of his chapters read like the information had been lifted from Google or Wikipedia (or Encyclopedia Britannica, considering when this was published). He goes into minute detail about dandelion weeds (excuse me, flowers) and beetles (or maybe it was spiders).

There wasn’t one interesting chapter.

Not.  One.

Going back through the book, there was one “rule” that made sense—The Brass Rule—which is that it’s not the thought that counts, but the gift that counts. This, to me, means giving meaningful (not expensive) gifts. I put a lot of thought into any gift I give, because I’ve been on the wrong end of an obvious regift, which are thoughtless (and which ended up as white elephant gifts for the Dirty Santa parties with my husband’s family).

Despite this miniscule glimmer, All I Really Need to Know had little to no redeeming value. Even his abysmal attempts at levity seemed to have a veiled mean-spiritedness that I found disconcerting.

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