Judith Martin’s etiquette advice, laid out in chunky chapters, might be a very dry read. But “Miss Manners’ Basic Training: The Right Thing to Say,” is formatted as quippy personal questions and answers. Her guidance assumes a conversational tone; it becomes a dialogue that’s easy to follow, and thanks to Martin’s tangy sense of informed propriety, a laugh-aloud eavesdrop.
The question-and-answer format is a fantastic choice for both readers and writers; and a skilled presentation like Martin’s can be not only informative, but entertaining. Because they aren’t dependent on maintaining continuity, question-and-answer books are perfect for readers with limited time. For me, this means I can spend months reading through a number of different Q & A books without having to hang onto characters’ identities or plotlines. I can pick up any number of books like Martin’s during a spare moment and enjoy an easily digestible segment.
Writers will appreciate Martin’s approach to a relatively serious topic—her answers to etiquette queries regarding everything from child-rearing to office romance are sensible, succinct, but most importantly, they combine good sense with humor. Any writer approaching a serious and potentially dry topic will benefit from reading and considering both Martin’s tone and format for a creative alternative to standard prose.
Cathy Belben lives in Bellingham, Washington, where she earned early fame for her award-winning fourth grade essay, “What the flag means to me” and later wrote bad rhyming poetry for the Whatcom Middle School Warrior Express. She recently survived a year in Hollywood writing for the show Veronica Mars. She’s returned to her normal life as a high school teacher and librarian, a triathlete, a weightlifter, a yogi, a dog’s mom, a cat’s slave, an artist, a napper, a nanny and an auntie. She’s thankful every day for everything.