What I’m Reading Now (Miss Manners’ Guide)

To counterbalance the serious Being Mortal, I’m also reading Miss Manners’ Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior by Judith Martin. At 827 pages, not including the index, that’s a lot of excruciating.

Much of it is a sad commentary on the state of culture. The people who wrote in at least know there are problems. Given what’s going on in the larger society, I guess it’s no surprise that we are failing at the smaller things, too. Do people really have to be told that deliberately hitting someone with an umbrella, refusing to give directions, or slamming doors in people’s faces represent uncivilized behavior?

In her attempts to rectify this situation, Miss Manners ranges across the landscape of behavior from the proper way to introduce people to responses to noisy neighbors (“Basic Civilization”), to writing and responding to invitations (“Intermediate Civilization”) to proper etiquette after someone dies (“Advanced Civilization”).

Some of the advice is truly philosophical. A reader asking about people who wear backpacks in crowded places received this in part: “ … etiquette, unlike the more forgiving social sciences, is interested in action as well as motivation. Good-hearted people who hit others with their burdens are rude.”

There’s lots of enlightened humor, too. My favorite so far, in part because of its brevity: “Dear Miss Manners: What am I supposed to say when I am introduced to a homosexual couple? Gentle Reader: ‘How do you?’ ‘How do you do?’ ”

After realizing that Miss M. spent all those pages delivering corollaries to the Golden Rule, this Gentle Reader plans to follow her to the porch swing with a mimosa and a copy of Jane Austen to read as Miss M’s peruses the novels of Henry James.

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