Too Much Knowledge

College Knowledge By Michael Edelhart Anchor Press/Doubleday, $7.95

THE AVERAGE COLLEGE STUDENT, a skinny schmuck from Tenafly who's never before left home and who can't tell a thermostat from a fire alarm, would probably snap up Michael Edelhart's first book, College Knowledge. This type of boiled--cabbage adolescent continually strikes out socially, maintains a sparking B-average and struggles desperately to act like everybody else. He even puts "Hang in there, baby" posters on his dorm walls.

To him College Knowledge would be scripture. Its cover claims it is "everything you need to know about everything," although it could easily be called "some things you need to know about everything you already learned." The book crawls with morsels of the same wholesome advice Wally Cleaver probably gave to Beaver. Edelhart covers nearly every topic even remotely relevant to college life, from joining a frat to a guide to herbs to traveling through national forests. Because he is writing what he hopes will become the standard reference for college students, he provides addresses for requesting research material on dozens of academic subjects.

These lists form the substance of the manual--dull as any address book, they are Edelhart's forte. He glues them together with chapter headings that resemble K-Mart stick-ems: "Well, If They Can Cure Hiccups, What About Acne?" or "A Knotty Problem--Tying Ties."

Still, if somehow you can overlook the cutesiness, Edelhart includes a number of useful recommendations, especially on student economics. Edelhart talks money without a trace of the bland B.S. that he dribbles in the later sections on social life. Some of his dorm decorating hints prove useful, too, (where to get free posters), for instance, though others are absurd, like decking your door with a "personal symbol."

FEW INTELLIGENT STUDENTS need this cliche-ridden crutch to college. The insecure may empathize with the tongue-tied beanstalks in the section on relationships--but what's a manual called College Knowledge without a discussion of carnal knowledge? As it is, all references to clandestine activity--booze, drugs or sex--are submitted from the parent/medic perspective: peril shadows those who indulge. Long lists proclaim the relative effectiveness of various contraceptives; even lengthier ones describe the side effects of drugs. Most students are already bombarded by such warnings, yet Edelhart omits what could be the most useful information to students themselves: how to deal with a friend on drugs or how to cure a hangover. This stodgy approach to drugs and alcohol is typical of the weakness of the book, which gives a complete listing of standard references, but not necessarily the advice that students most need.

This clean-cut approach to life at college naturally attracts more parents than students to the reference--Edelhart knows his audience. By catering to parents and nerds, Edelhart sacrificed his creativity to profit. He had a great concept--a reference for students--but his publishers took over from there.

Edelhart clearly wanted to attract collegiate buyers with his whimsical style: (From the subchapter "Hello, Can You Read Me?--Getting Better Acquainted with Your Body:"

"Touch. Got a firm bod? A squishy one? A squishy one that used to be firm? Does it hurt when you press anywhere? What parts of you jiggle? Where are your muscles clearly defined, where do your bones jut out? Is your skin rough, smooth, oily? Your hair wiry, downy, springy? Does your nose have a lump on it, what does your nose feel like to you? Mine feels like a piece of driftwood, hard but sanded smooth."

Not all Edelhart's writing is so exaggerated. Edelhart occasionally delivers a piercing phrase. His writing rarely drags, but among the abundant exclamation points lurk tired ideas--suggestions that today strike even grandmothers as quaint.

College Knowledge suckers well-meaning parents easily parted from their money. Its vast store of information, most valuable to students with little access to files on fellowships or aid, make parts of it useful. Edelhart's deliberately traditional attitude makes much of the book too trite to be helpful. It is contrived and vacuous instead. A market for this type of book still exists. But until something better than College Knowledge is published, the Unofficial Guide will have to suffice.