Good Manners for Nice People Who Sometimes Say F*ck

By Amy Alkon

(St. Martin’s Press, $14.99, 304 pages)

Who is this author?

She’s the Advice Goddess, with a popular and prize-winning syndicated column that can be found in more than 100 newspapers in the U.S. and Canada. (Wait, what? Aren’t all Canadians born with impeccable manners?). Amy Alkon lives in Venice – the California one, not the Italian one – and also is the author of the memoir, I See Rude People. She’s a frequent flyer on TV shows, including Good Morning America, The Today Show, NPR, CNN, MTV, and Entertainment Tonight and also broadcasts a weekly radio show called, appropriately, Advice Goddess Radio. Alkon also has contributed pieces to Psychology Today, Los Angeles Times and its Magazine, New York Daily News and Pravda.

What is this book about?

LA Weekly once called Amy Alkon “Miss Manners with Fangs,” and now she has written a book meant for nice but imperfect people (that would be many of us) who are a tad confused about being good in a rude world where life is so complex that it sadly is easier than ever to get away with bad behavior. Alkon’s weapons in the fight include a wicked good sense of humor and the smart use of psychological research to back up her intuitive insights. In the book, she poses questions that resonate in our contemporary world, many of them involving the electronic devices that are becoming our masters and others dealing with everyday annoyances, such as dog poop on your lawn. You won’t find much about correct table settings here, but you will find suggestions for getting through the day in a more polite and pleasant way.

Why you’ll like it:

Alkon makes us laugh and makes us think in this useful and entertaining book.  She mines the findings of academics in the fields of anthropology, psychology and evolutionary psychology for information, and transforms these serious discoveries into extremely amusing commentary. Her goal, though, is not simply to glean the giggles. She’s making a case that rudeness is a social crime, and that it can be combatted. Here is some of what she has to say:

“. . . how simple it actually is to treat other people well. Life is hardly one long Princess Cruise for any of us, and there are times when you’ll have to fire or disappoint somebody. But at the root of manners is empathy. When you’re unsure of what to say or do, there’s a really easy guideline, and it’s asking yourself, Hey, self! How would I feel if somebody did that to me?

“If everybody lived by this “Do Unto Others” rule—a beautifully simple rule we were supposed to learn in Kindergarten 101—I could probably publish this book as a twenty-page pamphlet. But so many people these days seem to be patterning their behavior on another simple rule, the “Up Yours” rule—“screw you if you don’t like it.”

“. . . More and more, we’re all victims of these many small muggings every day. Our perp doesn’t wear a ski mask or carry a gun; he wears Dockers and shouts into his iPhone in the line behind us at Starbucks, streaming his dull life into our brains, never considering for a moment whether our attention belongs to him. These little acts of social thuggery are inconsequential in and of themselves, but they add up—wearing away at our patience and good nature and making our daily lives feel like one big wrestling smackdown.

“The good news is, we can dial back the rudeness and change the way we all relate to one another, and we really need to, before rudeness becomes any more of a norm. . . .”

What others are saying:

In a starred review, Library Journal says: “The main problem with etiquette books is that the people who need them don’t read them. Alkon . . . not only tells readers what good manners are but also provides useful suggestions for politely calling offenders’ attention to their rudeness. And she does this in a ferociously funny style—it’s worth a read for the laughs alone. There is nothing here of the proper arrangement of table settings, nor of how to address a letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury; rather Alkon deals with modern problems in interpersonal relationships, such as how civilized people should act when standing in lines, on airplanes, online, and elsewhere. In addition, she offers very dependable, sensible, caring advice to those whose friends or family are coping with terminal illness. VERDICT Solid psychology and a wealth of helpful knowledge and rapier wit fill these pages. Highly recommended.”

“She is chatty, at times outrageous, but full of ideas about living politely in a society that she says has become too big for our brains to handle. As for Oscar Wilde, at the end of his life is said to have commented: ‘The world was my oyster, but I used the wrong fork,’ “ says The Wall Street Journal.

“Alkon turns reporting on findings in evolutionary psychology into an art form. She scans the research horizon for fascinating new results. Though relentless in her skepticism, she is keenly attuned to findings that are both solid and suggestive. (The world lost a great analyst when Alkon turned away from academic research.) In her hands, all this research turns into practical advice for how ordinary people can live better lives. Alkon may be, as the LA Weekly put it, ‘Miss Manners With Fangs,’ but she is perhaps better characterized as the offspring of Charles Darwin and Dorothy Parker. We academics can all take a lesson from her ability to redefine academic turf in terms ‘the ordinary person’ can both understand and enjoy,” says Dr. Barbara Oakley of Oakland University, author of Evil Genes: Why Rome Fell, Hitler Rose, Enron Failed and My Sister Stole My Mother’s Boyfriend and an expert on anti-social behavior.

When is it available?

If you ask politely, you may borrow this book from the Dwight branch of the Hartford Public Library.

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