Friday, January 6, 2017

Book Review: How to Be a Gentleman

A Fair Trade Book 

Title: How to Be a Gentleman

Author: John Bridges

Author's web page:

Date: 1998

Publisher: Rutledge Hill / Nelson

ISBN: 1-55853-596-9

Length: 150 pages

Quote: “A gentleman is someone who makes others feel comfortable.”

Well...that’s the usual modern usage. C.S. Lewis, who sometimes called himself a dinosaur, used to object to this usage. In Britain “lady” (masculine counterpart: “lord”) and “gentleman” (feminine counterpart: “gentlewoman”) referred to two specific positions in the feudal social hierarchy. American authors used to insist that these words don’t mean anything in a democracy. If they did, the U.S. equivalent of “gentleman” would be “a man who has inherited some property, including a farm and rental property” and the equivalent of “lady” would be “a governor, a member of Congress, a Supreme Court justice, or (by courtesy) the wife or daughter of one.”

There is ancient and honorable precedent for using these words, loosely, to mean anyone who has learned the sort of manners used by the most admired holders of these positions; the first book that encouraged all who read or heard it to behave like gentlemen dates back to the sixteenth century. Lewis argued, irrefutably, that this usage added nothing to the language. 

The case can be made that even in the United States the distinction may be worth preserving. A man whose parents spent their whole lives paying rent may do whatever he does as competently as a man whose parents owned land; he may live by the same moral standards, or by higher ones; he may earn more money and invest it in better things. He has still grown up with a different outlook on life than the landowners’ son has. He can learn the manners the landowners’ son learned, and as a matter of courtesy he probably will, but for him they may always feel like a "second language." Usually it won't make a difference; sometimes it will.

But how far need we carry this quibble? In this book Bridges, editor of the Nashville Scene, describes the behavior of men of the currently active generation who were generally agreed to be polite in Nashville. He’s not as verbose and witty as Judith Martin (“Miss Manners”), nor does he meander into either the formalities or the relationship counselling that enlivened Martin’s books. His book is strictly about the casual courtesies that even young people still appreciate today. A man in search of practical, man-to-man advice on this topic can safely consult How to Be a Gentleman, a book designed for convenient reference fits comfortably into a trench coat pocket.

Reading How to Be a Gentleman wouldn’t do a woman any harm, either; for that matter, this is a book that can be shared with children. Probably one needs to be a man to use tips like “If a gentleman shaves at the health club, he always rinses out the sink.” One does not have to be any particular age or gender to use tips like “If he must leave the theater in the middle of the performance, he does not say anything and does his best not to stop on toes.” A majority of the tips in this book fit into the second category.

So this book can be recommended, with some reservations, to anyone at all...but it was really designed, even to its shape and color, to suggest a graduation, back-to-school, or similar present for a male student.

If you want the most up-to-date edition, as shown in the photo link, it'll cost you new-book prices: $15 per book, $5 per package, $1 per online payment. If an older edition will do, send $5 per book, $5 per package, $1 per online payment, to either address at the bottom of the screen. If you want to compare the three popular editions of this book, you'd send $15 for the new one and $5 for each of the older ones plus $5, plus the optional $1 for Paypal if you don't go to the post office and pay their fee directly to them, for a total of $30 or $31. (Because this is a small book, you could add at least three more thin books to the package for $45 or $46.) In any case, Bridges being a living author makes this a Fair Trade Book, which means we send $1 per copy of his book that we sell to him or a charity of his choice.