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Would It Kill You to Stop Doing That: A Modern Guide to Manners [Hardcover]

Henry Alford
2.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Jan. 3 2012
"We all know bad manners when we see them," NPR and Vanity Fair contributor Henry Alford observes at the beginning of his new book. But what, he asks, do good manners look like in our day and age? When someone answers their cell phone in the middle of dining with you, or runs you off the sidewalk with their doublewide stroller, or you enter a post-apocalyptic public restroom, the long-revered wisdom of Emily Post can seem downright prehistoric.

Troubled by the absence of good manners in his day-to-day life-by the people who clip their toenails on the subway or give three-letter replies to one's laboriously crafted missives-Alford embarks on a journey to find out how things might look if people were on their best behavior a tad more often. He travels to Japan (the "Fort Knox Reserve" of good manners) to observe its culture of collective politesse. He interviews etiquette experts both likely (Judith Martin, Tim Gunn) and unlikely (a former prisoner, an army sergeant). He plays a game called Touch the Waiter. And he volunteers himself as a tour guide to foreigners visiting New York City in order to do ground-level reconnaissance on cultural manners divides. Along the way (in typical Alford style) he also finds time to teach Miss Manners how to steal a cab; designates the World's Most Annoying Bride; and tosses his own hat into the ring, volunteering as an online etiquette coach.

Ultimately, by tackling the etiquette questions specific to our age-such as Why shouldn't you ask a cab driver where's he's from?, Why is posting baby pictures on Facebook a fraught activity? and What's the problem with "No problem"?-Alford finds a wry and warm way into a subject that has sometimes been seen as pedantic or elitist. And in this way, he looks past the standard "dos" and "don'ts" of good form to present an illuminating, seriously entertaining book about grace and civility, and how we can simply treat each other better.


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Review

"Is it a breach of good manners to mislead folks just a little if you are going to show them a good time? The question arises after a brisk and happy trot through Henry Alford's new book, WOULD IT KILL YOU TO STOP DOING THAT?..Lively."—The New York Times

"Investigative humorist Henry Alford explores the illusive art of behaving well... Alford is a charming writer, who seems able to spin delightful stuff from whatever straw he happens to stumble across, and his rumination on good behavior is no exception."—Salon.com

"[His] self-deprecating wit recalls earlier generations of gentlemanly humor writers... Alford offers a...nearly always charming account of his own confusion about how to act."—The Boston Review

"Alford is a razory-wicked, fun guy to be around, and each of his stories are like those 'tiny acts of grace' brightening your day."—Kirkus

"Mr. Manners Henry Alford explains how-and why-to behave. WOULD IT KILL YOU TO STOP DOING THAT? amuses as it informs."—The New York Times Book Review

"[Alford] describes life as a cosmic Wikipedia, in which each of us through our actions is redefining and expanding the categories to which we belong. The book alternates between these idiosyncratic digressions and actual commentary on modern manners...consistently fun."—Newsday

"Extremely entertaining....Whatever the ideals may be, most of us can agree decent manners are a good idea. Thanks to this handbook, we stand a better chance of complying."—Bookpage

"Even the best behaved among us would benefit from a close reading of investigative humorist Henry Alford's brilliant primer on gracious living, Would It Kill You to Stop Doing That?"—Vanity Fair

"In today's world of social climbers, inconsiderate shoppers, cell phone yappers and the ever-evolving social media, Alford has taken it upon himself to get to the root of just what good manners really means in 2012. His flair for adding jovial wit to the proceedings offered is evident in every chapter. He has a natural, informative and clever writing talent....All in all, Would It Kill You to Stop Doing That? A Modern Guide to Manners provides a reference point from which to learn, a sympathetic voice of reason and an everyday guide for almost any social situation you could possibly imagine."—The Edge

About the Author

Henry Alford is the author of three acclaimed works of investigative humor - How To Live: A Seach for Wisdom from Old People (While They are Still on this Earth); Big Kiss: One Actor's Desperate Attempt to Claw His Way to the Top; and Municipal Bondage: One Man's Anxiety-Producing Adventures in the Big City. He has been a regular contributor to the New York Times and Vanity Fair, and a staff writer at Spy. He has also written for The New Yorker, GQ, New York, Details, Harper's Bazaar, Travel & Leisure, the Village Voice, and Paris Review. He lives in Manhattan.

Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars MIRTHFUL AND MEANINGFUL Jan. 3 2012
By Gail Cooke TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
It's always fun to read Henry Alford's books (Big Kiss, How To Live). Only problem that arises for me is his writing is so mirthful that I tend to overlook what might be a serious important point. (Yes, folks, there are points that don't merit levity).

With his latest book Alford focuses on etiquette or good manners, very specific to our time. Here you'll receive pointers (if you stop laughing) on the most thoughtful way to conduct yourself on the internet, cell phone use and more - subjects way beyond the ken of Emily Post.

Alford begins his observations by recalling a visit to Japan, a country he calls "the Fort Knox of World Manners Reserve." There we hear the amazing story of a man who locked up his shop after Alford inquired about the location of a restaurant. The man accompanied Alford on a three block walk in pouring rain in order to show him the exact location. Chances of that happening in NYC?

Read carefully when the topic is becoming a mannerly participant on Facebook or other online sites and appropriate business e-mail responses. Alford hopes to make the world a more civil place by offering suggestions re thank-you notes, meeting someone for the first time, RSVP responses, how to chat with oldsters, and other daily occurrences.

Along the way he shares what he refers to as expert advice from Miss Manners and Tim Gunn. For this reader Henry Alford is the expert, a wise and witty one.

- Gail Cooke
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars It almost killed me to read this book. March 3 2012
Format:Hardcover
I was hoping to find some interesting facts and trends in behaviour patterns but this book offered little more than a bunch of boring personal anecdotes. The author uses his encounters with newsstand operators or the experience of casual friends to illustrate the many ways in which we are less civil than we used to be. But he draws no conclusions and offers nothing new. A complete waste of time and money.
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Amazon.com: 3.1 out of 5 stars  43 reviews
28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars MIRTHFUL AND MEANINGFUL Jan. 3 2012
By Gail Cooke - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
It's always fun to read Henry Alford's books (Big Kiss, How To Live). Only problem that arises for me is his writing is so mirthful that I tend to overlook what might be a serious important point. (Yes, folks, there are points that don't merit levity).

With his latest book Alford focuses on etiquette or good manners, very specific to our time. Here you'll receive pointers (if you stop laughing) on the most thoughtful way to conduct yourself on the internet, cell phone use and more - subjects way beyond the ken of Emily Post.

Alford begins his observations by recalling a visit to Japan, a country he calls "the Fort Knox of World Manners Reserve." There we hear the amazing story of a man who locked up his shop after Alford inquired about the location of a restaurant. The man accompanied Alford on a three block walk in pouring rain in order to show him the exact location. Chances of that happening in NYC?

Read carefully when the topic is becoming a mannerly participant on Facebook or other online sites and appropriate business e-mail responses. Alford hopes to make the world a more civil place by offering suggestions re thank-you notes, meeting someone for the first time, RSVP responses, how to chat with oldsters, and other daily occurrences.

Along the way he shares what he refers to as expert advice from Miss Manners and Tim Gunn. For this reader Henry Alford is the expert, a wise and witty one.

- Gail Cooke
18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Desultory conversation... Jan. 21 2012
By D. Kanigan - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Alford has written for Vanity Fair, The NY Times and The New Yorker. He has written three books and is often heard on NPR. The pros: I loved the writing and his rapier wit. The book is filled with colorful stories, anecdotes, surveys, experiments and interviews. He also offers up some thoughtful recommendations on appropriate manners and etiquette.

The challenges? I anticipated some logical sequencing and organization prior to opening the cover of a book on manners or etiquette. However, this is not your Mother's Reference Manual on Etiquette & Manners. This witty book is a random walk on the subject where often times you get lost in the story missing the etiquette punch line altogether. The author lurches from discussions involving the appropriateness of slurping noodles in Tokyo, to accepting all friend requests on Facebook to asking how much rent you pay in Manhattan, to stealing a cab.

A number of recommendations were thoughtful:

* Don't return a phone call with a text. "There's an implicit hierarchy of communication. If you go lower on the hierarchy, people will think there's a subtext."

* Don't overuse the word "thx" in emails especially to a sender that has spent considerable time sending you an email. Take a moment to use the sender's name and spell out Thanks. Tone is often lost in email and it's important that the recipient not misconstrue your intention.

* If someone sends you a gift certificate, why not send that person a photo of what you bought or at minimum tell them what you bought.

* Is it rude if someone refuses to accept your friend request? If you've actually met in the flesh, then yes, it sounds like it is. It's rude, too, in instances where you have not actually met, but have enjoyed a long period of correspondence or phone calls, or have heard about each other for years and years through mutual friends. However, before we become offended, it's important to consider the snubber's FB modus operandi. Some people on FB only friend family or people they are offline friends with; others want to friend every single person they can possible get their cyberpaws on.

A taste of his humor:

* If two people are staying in a hotel room, it is highly hospitable if one or the other of them gets into the habit of sometimes using the bathroom located off the hotel's lobby, particularly for lengthier sit-downs. To do so is to reduced aroma and anxiety, disperse foot traffic, and inject mystery into the relationship.

*(Teaching foreigners how to steal a cab) You've got to be out in the traffic. Out in the traffic but not run over. But you've got to be a little brazen. And the rule for stealing a cab is that you've got to walk at least a block upstream. So people don't see you. (Setting aside that there might be) a harried-looking businesswoman also trying to hail a cab (and you've just jumped the line)
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A funny exploration of modern manners June 8 2012
By Sherri Calvo - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Henry Alford's hilarious "Would It Kill You to Stop Doing That? A Modern Guide to Manners" is actually less a guide to manners than it is a sort of memoir of a very funny guy thinking about manners. Really, would you rely upon a "Guide to Manners" from someone who plays a game called "Touch the Waiter" at restaurants? You've got to admire the chutzpah of an author who cops to this sort of behavior in a book that's liable to wind up shelved next to Miss Manners' authoritative tomes, which are also wonderful but in a completely different way. Miss Manners he sure isn't, although she does make an appearance in this book, as charming as always. No, Alford is just muddling along like the rest of us, trying to navigate a complicated world. The gems here are his witty and spot-on observations along the way. New Yorkers may particularly enjoy recognizing themselves in his field guide to his adopted home town. I finally understand why, when I hail a cab in DC or Baltimore (in what, being a transplanted New Yorker, I naturally thought was the universal fashion), the locals think I'm nuts. This book won't make you a paragon of etiquette, but it'll make you think, and laugh.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Rapier-sharp commentary on social graces and mores Jan. 10 2012
By Rowan Reader - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
First off, the main downside to this book: Not enough time spent with my own two preferred manners mavens, Tim Gunn and Miss Manners. I found the sections spent interviewing them to be quite fun, but sadly short - similar to attending a dinner advertising a "sumptuous mousse dessert" and then you get your serving: a tiny teaspoon. Tastes good, but you were expecting a good bit more of it.

As to the book itself - short, sharp-tongued, and occasionally scathing. There is some language towards the end (he is a NYC greeter, and likes to shock his overseas visitors by taking them by the booth selling "effing" shirts.) There is also a bit of a better than thou tone throughout, but strangely enough, it humanizes rather than irritates. The section on his "retaliatory manners" especially hit me square in my own often passive-aggressive tendencies, and made like him all the more because of our shared failings.

Overall, nothing earth-shattering, and most certainly not exhaustive or even complete, but a very enjoyable short and sassy addition to the voices of those calling out for a continuation and furtherance of modern manners.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Alford might not make you an expert on manners . . . but by reading his book, you'll find yourself chuckling about the topic. March 22 2012
By Blaine Greenfield - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Heard WOULD IT KILL YOU TO STOP DOING THAT? A GUIDE TO MODERN MANNERS (Hachette Audio), written and read by Henry Alford.

This book is somewhat mistitled, in that I don't know if I would call it a guide . . . rather, it is a collection of essays by the author . . . some are quite amusing; others are less so.

The subject matter is all over the place, and that's part of the appeal of WOULD IT KILL YOU? . . . Alford starts off with a report of his visit to Japan; he interviews etiquette experts such as Judith Martin and Tim Gunn, as well as some you would never place in that category (an Army sergeant); he describes a game called Touch the Waiter; he volunteers as a tour guide to foreigners visiting New York City; and he offers advice as an online etiquette coach.

Listening carefully, I did get some really good advice--including these tidbits:

* Don't return a phone call with a text. "There's an implicit hierarchy of communication. If you go lower on the hierarchy, people will think there's a subtext."

* If someone sends you a gift certificate, why not send that person a photo of what you bought or at minimum tell them what you bought.

And this one on Facebook usage that I've often thought about:

* Is it rude if someone refuses to accept your friend request? If you've actually met in the flesh, then yes, it sounds like it is. It's rude, too, in instances where you have not actually met, but have enjoyed a long period of correspondence or phone calls, or have heard about each other for years and years through mutual friends. However, before we become offended, it's important to consider the snubber's FB modus operandi. Some people on FB only friend family or people they are offline friends with; others want to friend every single person they can possible get their cyberpaws on.

Alford might not make you an expert on manners . . . but by reading his book, you'll find yourself at least chuckling about the topic.
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