A clever, alert essayist presents her argument for an ancient virtue, confirming the old adage that manners maketh the man—and, she allows, enhanceth the woman too.
In a world patently short on patience and apparently burdened with a surfeit of self-esteem, Holdforth (True Pleasures: A Memoir of Women in Paris, 2004) courteously goes directly to the point: We need civil behavior if civilization is to hold together. Consensual good manners, she asserts, are better than both laws and religion. As we have just discovered anew, greed is not good for us. Ever since the heyday of Athenian democracy, community service and cooperation have consistently made the world work better. Good manners, to be sure, are not evidenced by false intimacy invoked by relative strangers. Practitioners of more formal politesse, it may be noted, can maintain a shield against premature familiarity. Holdforth, a native of generally free-and-easy Australia, recalls with admiration the elaborate decorum of the constricted salons of Enlightenment Paris. She allows Lord Chesterfield to pronounce good manners beneficial to all; she enlists Castiglione, Proust and Talleyrand as witnesses. Good manners avert social confusion, she avers. They control narcissism, improve communication, provide social stability and just make life sweeter. Despite the frisson a fine theatrical display of bad manners can produce, proper behavior is a badge of humanity that enhances life, if just for a bit. So if you can’t remove your artfully reversed baseball cap at the dinner table or turn off your iPhone in a crowd, at least try for some other little touch of considerate conduct. It will be good for us all. Who would be churlish enough to dispute that?
Short, sweet and smart—not an etiquette manual, just a 21st-century reminder of the timeless practice and rewards of good manners.
Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.
Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").
Noted jazz and pop record producer Thiele offers a chatty autobiography. Aided by record-business colleague Golden, Thiele traces his career from his start as a ``pubescent, novice jazz record producer'' in the 1940s through the '50s, when he headed Coral, Dot, and Roulette Records, and the '60s, when he worked for ABC and ran the famous Impulse! jazz label. At Coral, Thiele championed the work of ``hillbilly'' singer Buddy Holly, although the only sessions he produced with Holly were marred by saccharine strings. The producer specialized in more mainstream popsters like the irrepressibly perky Teresa Brewer (who later became his fourth wife) and the bubble-machine muzak-meister Lawrence Welk. At Dot, Thiele was instrumental in recording Jack Kerouac's famous beat- generation ramblings to jazz accompaniment (recordings that Dot's president found ``pornographic''), while also overseeing a steady stream of pop hits. He then moved to the Mafia-controlled Roulette label, where he observed the ``silk-suited, pinky-ringed'' entourage who frequented the label's offices. Incredibly, however, Thiele remembers the famously hard-nosed Morris Levy, who ran the label and was eventually convicted of extortion, as ``one of the kindest, most warm-hearted, and classiest music men I have ever known.'' At ABC/Impulse!, Thiele oversaw the classic recordings of John Coltrane, although he is the first to admit that Coltrane essentially produced his own sessions. Like many producers of the day, Thiele participated in the ownership of publishing rights to some of the songs he recorded; he makes no apology for this practice, which he calls ``entirely appropriate and without any ethical conflicts.'' A pleasant, if not exactly riveting, memoir that will be of most interest to those with a thirst for cocktail-hour stories of the record biz. (25 halftones, not seen)