There are many ways NOT to learn Chinese characters, but one that I just found out about today is probably the worst, even worse than T. K. Ann's Cracking the Chinese Puzzles. It was written by Alison Matthews ("a statistician who has worked in the oil, aviation, tourism, medical and software industries") and Laurence Matthews (author of books that claim to help you find Chinese characters fast) and is called Learning Chinese Characters: A revolutionary new way to learn and remember the 800 most basic Chinese characters.
You can find the Matthews' miraculous tome on Google books here.
If you start leafing through the book, as I did, you will find on any given page hilarious explanations such as the following:
"tree 木 + several 几 = machine 机": It took several trees to provide enough wood to make the parts for the huge machine.
This is accompanied by a picture of a wooden contraption behind which are four trunks of trees that have been felled and beyond that three trees that are still standing. Whereas the Matthewses gushingly enjoin us to "see how the 'several trees' have indeed been felled to make the large 'machine' that is taking shape," this is actually a pictophonetic (or semantosyllabic) character in which MU4 is the semantic indicator and JI1 (not JI3 ["several") is the phonophore.
"wrap 勹 + a drop 丶 = ladle 勺": When he had wrapped it up he put a drop of perfume on the package even though there was only a ladle inside.
This tortuous explanation is accompanied by a picture of two hands in front of a belly; the right one is holding a perfume dropper out of which has come a drop of perfume that is wiggling in mid-air, while the left hand is holding the handle of a ladle that is wrapped in cloth or paper and tied with a string. The ladle appears to be resting on a flat surface, or possibly partially submerged underwater. In fact, this character goes back to the period of the oracle bones (earliest stage of the writing system, circa 1200 BC), at which time it depicted a ladle with a drop of liquid in it. At the time of its creation, the character had absolutely nothing to do with "wrapping"; the idea of "wrapping" is an artifact of a later stage of evolution when the ladle was transformed into what became Kangxi radical 20 勹.
These are just the first two characters that I happened to turn to as I perused the book. Looking further, I find that there are even more outlandish explanations for many other characters. If one tried to use this method to learn 8 characters, it might work, but if one attempted to learn all of the 800 characters in the book this way, it would be a horribly frustrating experience. If one did not go insane in the process, at the very least one would have lost hundreds, if not thousands, of hours in vain hopes of mastering the strokes, sounds, and meanings of so many characters in this absurd fashion. And, if one should ever be so foolhardy as to try to employ the method of the Matthewses to learn 8,000 characters, one would certainly go stark, raving mad.
I pity anyone into whose hands this book falls and who actually tries to learn the characters by using it. The only thing it will do for you is turn your brain into mush.
Hat tip to Jonathan Smith