Give me books, fruit, french wine and fine weather and a little music out of doors. --John Keats

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

"Talk to the Hand: The Utter Bloody Rudeness of the World Today, or Six Good Reasons to Stay Home and Bolt the Door" by Lynne Truss

I came across this book while searching for Truss's Eats, Shoots & Leaves on the awesome book-trading website It sounded interesting enough (and, as a bonus, funny as well) so I decided to give it a try.

It turned out to be different from the fast and hilarious read I had expected. Although I did get through it quite quickly, it was not especially light; and though it did have its funny parts, it was much more of a rant than I was looking for. Maybe if I were British (as is Truss) I would have laughed more. As it was, I found myself unfortunately reminded of Neil Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death, a book I came away from with the idea that amusing myself to death is not so bad when compared with the alternative--boring myself to death--which is what what would have happened if Postman's book had been much longer.

There were a few key points of Truss's that I disagreed with. One of her major ideas was that "everyone" thinks their own manners are impeccable, while simultaneously finding that everyone else in the world is a complete boor. I can't speak for "everyone," but for me, at least, this is not true. Yes, I've run across some rude people in my time--even the occasional boor--but I know my own manners are not impeccable. Half of the time I don't even realize until after the fact that what I was doing or saying might be construed as rude. The other half of the time I am uncertain as to what I should do or say to be polite. Throw in the times where I am grumpy and feeling selfish, and I have the makings of a boor right here. Where manners are concerned, so often I feel I fall short in others' eyes (especially my mother-in-law's).

Truss also seemed to say that people need to speak up when they see rudeness occurring. Tell the litterbugs they've dropped their trash and that sort of thing. I disagree with Truss in this area. I have always thought that pointing out someone's lack of manners is just as rude as the original lapse in courtesy.

Something interesting I noticed, which is not something that Truss voiced in her book, is that everyone is going to have their own, slightly different ideas of what constitutes "good manners." For example, Truss rails against saying "no problem" in place of "you're welcome." I say "no problem" all the time!! This whole social interaction thing is like a minefield!

I do agree with a major theme of the book. Truss doesn't actually come out and say this, but the only solution that makes sense is this: Start with yourself, and be the polite, considerate, and respectful one. At the risk of sounding trite, you could apply the oft-heard "Be the change you wish to see in the world" here. I certainly applaud Truss's main suggestions: Use courtesy words! (Please, thank you, you're welcome, sorry). Take responsibility for cleaning up your own mess. Understand that you're not alone in the world, and your words and actions have an impact on those around you--you should care about this even if you are surrounded by strangers. Have respect for those who deserve it (which would be the majority of people you come into contact with). Be more thoughtful and less selfish.

I didn't enjoy this book as much as I wanted to. It makes me look forward to "Eats, Shoots & Leaves" much less... but that one is already on its way here. Oh well. Maybe I'll like it.

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