Guides to life by E Jane Dickson
Vade-me-cum, vade-me-go. As Christmas approaches, the hardy annual on publishers' lists is the How To guide, the perfect gift book for people who don't like reading. Amid the self-help texts, almanacs and improbable weight-loss programmes, one book cuts straight to the chase: Nate Penn and Lawrence LaRose's The Code: time-tested secrets for getting what you want from women without marrying them! (Coronet, pounds 5.99). Penn and LaRose are "two unattached New Yorkers, well briefed in the world of dating". Clearly, neither has had sex for a very long time. The tone of this "Michelin guide to grinding" is a blend of Sid the Sexist and Adrian Mole, but without the humour: "At the end of the day, a man desires nothing more than a furry place to keep his nose warm."

Among role models for British Code-guys are Chris Evans, Michael Winner and, puzzlingly, Mr Darcy. But this is no simple hymn to New Laddism. The female sexual psyche is blown open in elegant apercus: "A woman wants a man who bursts through the swinging doors of her heart's saloon like Clint Eastwood, an entourage of rolling tumbleweeds of pubic hair blowing in behind." This is emetic stuff.

It remains only to say that Penn and LaRose have a pet name for the penis. They call it "The Prime Minister".

"So what is it with men and their dicks?" asks Alice K, the rather more grounded heroine of Alice K's Guide to Life (Quartet, pounds 7), and the alter ago of US Cosmopolitan writer Caroline Knapp. Women, points out Knapp, must juggle their sexual anxieties with worries about the office popularity stakes and "uncooperative clothing syndrome" (see also under "thongs"). Taken as a companion volume to The Code, Alice K.'s musings are much more bracing. Knapp's cosy bitchery (when Alice admits that her ex-boyfriend's new date looks like an aerobics instructor, "she doesn't necessarily mean that in the kindest sense of the word") is astringent and uplifting as a large vodka.

For the sensible-shoes approach, Women Unlimited; the directory for life (Penguin, pounds 9.99) offers sound advice on everything from how to arrange a funeral or divorce to PC beauty tips ("Bodily hair - outside the realm of religious edicts - is really a matter of personal taste"). Concisely collated by five formidable women, this is not the book to read out loud to pals on drunken evenings, but your next attack of piles or plumbing crisis could well find you scurrying gratefully to the shelves.

The most entertaining problems are other people's, and Dear Mary... your social dilemmas resolved (Constable, pounds 9.99) is good for hours of anthropological browsing. Drawn from Mary Killen's weekly column in The Spectator, the problems featured are, incredibly, the bona fide concerns of real readers: plate stacking at dinner parties (frightfully Non-U) or how to curb guests' caviar consumption. Killen's trick is to apply impartial sympathy (and a high degree of inventiveness) to dilemmas great and small. A reader plagued by a house-guest's insistence on lolling naked by the pool is advised to apply a sugary solution to the exhibitionist's deck chair, and let the garden ants do the rest. As the chronicler of upper-middle- class absurdities, Killen is up there with Mitford and Wodehouse. This is not so much self-help as social sabotage at its most refined and ruthless.

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