Storey’s Curious Compendium of Practical and Obscure Skills: 214 Things You Can Actually Learn How to Do

You could probably manage to stay alive without knowing how to do any of the 214 things in Storey’s Curious Compendium of Practical and Obscure Skills, but you could be a whole lot more interesting if you do. Actually, a couple of the things, like properly storing winter vegetables and purifying water are necessary life skills. Depending on how the next few years go, you may actually have to use them. I can’t think of any other reason why you would want to dig a 3×4′ hole and overlay it with plastic sheeting and tubing if you didn’t have to…unless, of course, you happen to have the energy of an eight-year-old.

This nonfiction book from the self-described “community of doers” at Storey Publishing is a fascinating one to peruse if you’ve got some time and the interest to learn something new. And as ways to spend time go, this is one of the more useful ones you could choose. Sure, you could search on Google for any of these things, but how many of us would think to Google how to make a scarf that records the weather or how to finger knit a strap, skinny scarf or pet toy or make a stove from a tin can? The table of contents is worth its weight in gold for the ideas you can mine. The 214 things you can learn run the gamut in complexity, from relatively simple things like telling a sheep from a goat to rewiring a table lamp to building a homestead in and from the woods. They don’t seem to be in any particular order, but there is an index of skills by topic (Gardening, Well-Being, Nature, Food & Drink, Crafts, Animals, Sustainable Living, and Building) in the back of the book. There is also a traditional alphabetical index. The extensive credits could also lead you to further reading materials of interest.

Want to learn to speak chicken? That’s on pg. 130. It might not help you catch the chicken, but no worries. The book describes how to do that on pg. 132. Don’t have chickens? Maybe you have a favorite pair of socks with holes. This book will teach you how to darn them. More useful tips will steer you how to build a self-watering container for houseplants and dry your own fruit. Or, if you’re in the mood for something a little more whimsical. You can learn to make little projects from felted wool, like finger puppets or a cute little business card case. I’m thinking of making the latter to keep coupons in.

Whether you want to: be more independent (fix a flat bicycle tire, grow the most vegetables possible); be more eco-friendly (unclog a drain without chemicals, make your own toothpaste and hair conditioner); increase your own or another person’s relaxation (make a heavenly hammock, give a foot massage); be more interesting at parties (know birds by their songs, find your way around the night sky, capture a swarm of bees) there is something for nearly everyone in this book.

The next time someone asks me that question about being stranded on a deserted island with only one book, I will give serious consideration to this being my answer.

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