DEAR MISS MANNERS: A gentleman I know only because he’s married to an old high school classmate has written and self-published a rather long novel on a topic I know and care nothing about. In a recent online get-together with his wife and some of our other high school chums, he asked if he could “pitch” his book to us, then proceeded to describe the book, where it could be purchased and for what price. We all politely expressed our admiration for his achievement.
Yesterday, a copy of the book arrived at my home. I immediately thanked the author in neutral terms: “Imagine my surprise when I discovered a copy of your tome on my doorstep! It is a handsome volume, indeed. Thanks so much for adding it to my library!”
But now I am at a loss as to what to do when he inevitably queries me about what I thought of it. I don’t want to lie, yet I also don’t want to hurt this fellow’s feelings about a work he says he wrote over a 35-year period.
GENTLE READER: Would you consider it a lie to say, “I’m looking forward to reading it”?
Yes? Well, then, how about, “I’m anxious to read it”?
“Anxious” doesn’t mean the same thing as “eager,” you know. And you do sound to Miss Manners as if you are truly anxious at the prospect of having to read it.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have appalling manners over the phone and on email. I am condescending, abusive and rude. My grammar and spelling are terrible, as well; I use ALL CAPS for no reason and misuse punctuation (my favorite is to use several exclamation points or question marks to really communicate the contempt I have for other humans). IS THERE ANY HOPE FOR SOMEONE LIKE ME????!!
GENTLE READER: NONE! Not when you are so proud of your failings as to make sure to repeat them in such an obviously provocative fashion.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: Can you please, once again, state the rule for when thank-you notes for wedding gifts should be sent out? (Perhaps you could state this in large type, bolded?) My friends who are mothers-of-brides tell me that brides have a year to write thank-yous, and I have been unable to find Miss Manners’ guidelines via online searches.
Miss Manners, I’m on my elderly, arthritic knees! I never know if my carefully chosen gifts are received!
GENTLE READER: What, again? As if Miss Manners hasn’t pointed this out a million times?
Come on, folks. You’ve heard of feedback. You give it all the time to people you don’t even know. How can you begrudge it to someone you do know, who has been — perhaps foolishly — generous to you?
DEAR MISS MANNERS: As a 58-year-old man raised in the South, and husband of 32 years to an amazing and cool wife, I’m confused. Ladies are always served first, but my wife says the cook is served last. What’s a husband to do when it’s just the two of us?
GENTLE READER: You could solve the problem by doing all the cooking. But here is another rule: One always serves others before oneself.