Lynne Truss is famous, of course, for having written Eats, Shoots & Leaves, though I have never read that particular book (though I’ve been told by many people that, as a Writer, I really ought to). This book is subtitled, #?*! The Utter Bloody Rudeness of the World Today, or Six Good Reasons to Stay Home and Bolt the Door. And what it really boils down to is a moralistic rant about the utterly appalling state of polite behavior, civility, and manners in society today. Or, rather, the appalling lack thereof.
Ms. Truss is right, of course. People are rude, and they seem ruder today than they ever have been. Even though this book is primarily focused on the state of civility in Britain, much of what she says applies to American society as well. Her thesis is, essentially, that all of us have built for ourselves our own little worlds, in which we are kings and queens (Masters of our domain? Boys and girls in bubbles? Hm, where have I heard all that before?), and that anything we perceive as an intrusion into those little bubbles we react to with hostility and anger. This is expressed as the “Universal Eff-Off Reflex”; in other words, any perceived slight gets responded to with “Eff Off”, without even thinking about it.
But along with this universal “Eff Off” reflex, people do their damndest to make sure they don’t come across as potentially inferior to anyone. And since civility and politeness are essentially about deference, which people think is about belittling yourself beneath others, civility and politeness are cast aside by people who want to make sure they aren’t mistakenly seen as inferior to anyone else. The “Eff Off” reflex is a way of reasserting that Ms. Truss wants to make clear to the reader that deference, civility, politeness, and respect are not the same as self deprecation and humiliation.
Talk to the Hand is marvelously funny and full of the kind of British dry wit that I really love. I did find myself feeling a bit defensive at times — surely I’m not as rude as that, I would tell myself — but that’s probably a good thing, because it meant I was examining my own behavior in terms of what was written in the book, and I’m sure that getting the reader to indulge in self-reflection was one of Truss’s goals. On the other hand, I certainly laughed more than I felt guilty, and there were plenty of opportunities for me to feel self important as well — well, I certainly wouldn’t do that, and I know people who are just like that, aren’t they silly, ha ha ha, I’m so glad I’m better than that.
I recommend this book highly. My only concern is that Ms. Truss may be preaching to the choir. The people who really need to read this book — those people who are rude to me, in other words — probably never will.