Would it Kill You to Stop Doing That? A Modern Guide to Manners (Henry Alford)

0.5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
This meandering, long-winded, only occasionally amusing book sorely tested my patience. Though I normally have a high tolerance for fluff, and find myself interested in and by a variety of genres and writing styles, I found this book truly hard to finish: points that could have been made in one sentence would drag on for pages, and I was so irritated by the end that I was tempted to act out, to go through some of the pet peeves/ examples of poor manners listed in the book just to vent some steam. Ultimately, even if you agree that “Thanks, Henry!” should never be shortened to “thx,” that email has given us a convenient excuse to write more aggressively and gossip more than we would normally, or that there are certain rules of polite society that should be observed, you end up not caring by the end of this book.  I’ve never read a book on etiquette before, and now, I’m not sure if I ever can again…

Greater Detail:
The first half of the book is a very verbose, mostly anecdotal account of how our author became increasingly aware of bad manners.  He argues (amusingly) that though some people say that our society is currently the least polite it’s ever been, that this is patently not true.  He points out that a hundred or so years ago, people would spit in public, fart, and do all manner of things that we would now consider rude and base. Still, he reminisces about the ways in which we have become increasingly rude.  He argues that it is perhaps because we’re just blind to what polite behavior would be because we’re too absorbed by what else we’re doing — Alford gives the example of pilots who missed their target city because they were reading about regulations, and pedestrians who were so busy texting that they failed to notice a clown on a unicycle.

We start with his trip to Japan, where he hires someone to teach him etiquette (some of which is really common sense in terms of greetings and how to best correct someone else’s grammar and/or language, and some of which you wouldn’t necessarily think of — for example, he notes that most Japanese people seem to loudly slurp their noodles in public, and wonders if he’s being rude by eating his ramen quietly). Like most of the rest of the book, there are moments of levity (especially if you’re a lover of puns; there are some amusing moments, for example, when he talks about how he feels like he’s wearing orthopedic shoes because he was wrong and now “stands corrected”), but they are few and far between.

Similarly, he makes some interesting arguments — that there is a communication hierarchy, for example, between email, text, phone, etc, and that you need to at least match the level of communication you were contacted in initially; that some sort of lying may be necessary, and better classified under “boundary setting;” and that we really shouldn’t be using “no problem” as a replacement for “you’re welcome” —  ultimately, the points are so very dragged out, that truly, you stop caring as a reader.

Comparisons to Other Books/Authors:
I’ve never read anything else by Alford, and though I can attest to his command of the English language and his agile vocabulary, correct writing can’t save this book and I’m very unlikely to try anything else by this author.

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