Sunday, October 28, 2007

As I Myself Might Say

Among the books I'm reading is yet another that I want to recommend, not to everyone for their own reading, but to everyone who'll be buying a Christmas present or stocking stuffers for any budding young gentlemen this season. I picked it up and leafed through it at Jos A. Banks the other day and had to bring it home. As a Gentleman Would Say, by John Bridges and Bryan Curtis is meant to be, I think, more of a coffee table book than a reference work--entertaining and informative at the same time. It's not written to be funny, in the manner of the once bestselling Official Preppy Handbook, which invited that crowd and all its imitators to laugh heartily at themselves or risk being shamelessly laughed at. But it is frequently funny, primarily when it offers examples of what not to say. For instance, take this passage that I'm sure I'll never personally find useful, but is illustrative of the whole:


He does not say:
"Okay, then what about next Friday?"
"What's the matter? Am I being to pushy?"
"But I though you said you liked pro wrestling."
"Well, you certainly don't know what you're missing."

But he does say:
"I understand. Maybe we can do something together some other time."

In affairs of the heart, a gentleman attempts, above all else, never to appear desperate. If he senses that he is being given the cold shoulder, he does not continue in pursuit of a person who has little interest in his attentions. If he does sense that there is hope for a second chance, he waits a few weeks and then tries again, making sure not to refer to his previous bad luck.

The book is subtitled "Responses to Life's Important (and sometimes awkward) Situations," and has chapters such as, "On the Job," "Wining and Dining," "In Times of Sadness," and so on. The excerpt above comes from the chapter on "Affairs of the Heart."

It can't, of course, cover everything, nor does it need to. What's important is the mode of thinking it inculcates. Think of it, in its repeated contrasting of what not to say with what to say, as something of an antidote for the overdose of flippancy our culture is awash in through media such as VH1, MTV, text messaging, and so on. Somewhere in McCarthy, one of the characters states that all formal manners have as their goal the prevention of bloodshed. Here's a little book that's a step in the right direction.

I have at least one nephew who's a fine young gentleman already, but he can look forward to a copy of his own this holiday season.