How to Be Dull: Standing Out Next to Genius is one of the funniest books I’ve read this year. I read a lot of self help, self improvement, self actualization books and How to Be Dull shines a hilariously dark spotlight on the myriad benefits of staying just as you are. The humor is dry and the delivery is completely serious and matter-of-fact, rather like a Monty Python classroom sketch.
It is also surprisingly educational. Do you know why we remember Chaucer’s name but so very few of his contemporaries? : “…Chaucer succeeded by adapting Italian masters, appropriating a wide range of old folk tales, mixing them with Greek myth, writing in the vernacular rather than hoity-toity Latin or snooty French, and adding a wide range of characters to represent the whole of modern 14th century life from the top to the bottom… He was a true original, though one must admit his originality was made of things familiar mixed up, changed, innovated and slapped together in wholly unexpected ways. If one were to plunge an audience into completely original communications of an artly nature, doubtless people would be confused and nonplussed and very put out.” loc 68, ebook. It’s so true! People don’t want new stuff- they want old stuff repackaged to look new. How dull is that. Chaucer knew what was up.
This whole dull thing is very appealing to introverts: “Be dull. Be boring. Make no splash. Make no waves. Put your head down and do the work you wish to do and present such a bland face to the world that they leave you in peace to get on with it. Do not make the mistake of seeing this as some kind of capitulation. You are not defeated if you are dull. You merely refuse, wisely, to spend your precious time convincing others of your originality. No one need know but you.” loc 105. Being left in peace to do what I want to do- now there’s a philosophy I can get behind.
If you were curious as to the enduring popularity of socialites who don’t seem to contribute in any meaningful way to society, Morley suggests that it is because of dull people just like you and me. Imagine our importance! : “Be below notice. For you will find it easy to make your way unseen into important places, for the truth is the appeal of these ‘personalities’ is their true blandness. They are screens upon which we project our home movies of illusion. And they need dull people to make them sparkle.” loc 168, ebook.
I do enjoy an author who isn’t afraid to put in a good word for themselves: “How to explain this conundrum without falling into dullness myself and losing your attention? I do wish to teach you to be dull, but you must attend to my brief lesson long enough to say, ‘Yes I read that book and I rather liked it’ so you can recommend it on ReadGood or whatever those places are before you go back to sipping your own martini and forget all about my delicious tome.” loc 796, ebook. Ah, self promotion, the height of dullness. Now, back to my martini…
Let’s end with Morley’s exhortation to be a “shining example” to those who try to stand out from the crowd: “It helps one to know that whilst one appears to be useless and idle, one can congratulate him or herself on being a shining example to those who would wish to be extraordinary. It is the normal thing, or should I say the usual thing.” loc 923, ebook.
Know anybody who forgets to laugh about the silliness that is the self improvement rat-race? I have just found the perfect Christmas present for them. You’re welcome. Some more humorous books about popular culture: The Joy of Leaving Your Sh*t All Over the Place: The Art of Being Messy or The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck: How to Stop Spending Time You Don’t Have with People You Don’t Like Doing Things You Don’t Want to Do. But, How to Be Dull is superior to either of those books because the author never wavers from his/her beautifully worded, high brow observations or resorts to vulgarity to make a point.
Thank you to NetGalley and Women’s League of Ale Drinkers Publishing for a free digital copy of this book. (What a great name for a publishing firm, by the way.) And, thank you for reading! -Heidi
This review also appeared on Heidi’s Blog.