In honor of Father's Day, Miss Manners would like to pass along some of the wisdom she absorbed at the knee of her own dear papa. Such as:
For an emotional lift, spend a few hours rearranging your books.Notice that this stipulates rearranging, not arranging, your books. In the Manners family, it is assumed, sometimes against close-ly related evidence to the contrary, that civilized people have systems for keeping their books in such strict order that they can always put their hands on a disputed quotation or an elusive fact.
As there is no perfect system - and never will be, until publishers give up the unreasonable practice of putting out books by the same author or on the same subject in wildly different sizes - the mind may be forever engaged by such challenges as shelving related pocket guides and picture books.
A private library cannot simply adopt the library system. The library does not have to ask which books should go in the bedroom, the guest room or the bathroom; if it runs out of room, it merely requests a new wing. (Miss Manners' answers: The bedroom gets those books that solve your middle-of-the-night questions - whether these happen to be spiritual, factual or how to bore yourself back to sleep; the guest room gets books by, or recommended by, other friends, as a sort of introduction to one another; and the bathroom gets books that can, or perhaps should, fall into the tub without devastating loss.)
Other questions are even more troubling. Should biographies be shelved separately from the books written by the subjects of those biographies? Should firsthand accounts of historic events be with other histories or with other memoirs? Should books of a particular period, such as ancient Greece, be grouped with later plays, poetry and history?
Then there are the questions with emotional underpinnings. Should the books the children left behind be saved for them, and for how long? Which ones qualify to be integrated into literature? (Which books, not which children.) Who, besides Shakespeare, Jane Austen and Henry James, deserves a shelf of his or her own?
Is it obligatory to give a permanent home to books friends mistakenly thought you would find charming? How big does the obligatory reading pile have to get before one should give up and re-shelve it?
With such issues to ponder, you can see why Miss Manners' father was unacquainted with the phenomenon of boredom. He could never understand why so many people went in for that, considering that it is no fun.
Useless recriminations - the nursing of nonspecific guilt or victimhood grudges that are the twin emotional preoccupations of the century - would have bored him senseless if he had given them the chance. But having always striven to do the best he could under the circumstances, and assuming that others did so as well, he had no room for either in his own life.
To protect himself from other people's outpourings on these subjects, which, over his lifetime, increasingly infiltrated what used to be polite conversation, he cultivated a beatific expression that made him resemble the perfect sympathetic listener.
Thus he was able to resist cutting short such nonsense by asking why everybody else didn't do things right in the first place or make reparations if they did wrong, or, if there were nothing to be done, occupy themselves with interesting subjects.
That is what he did as he nodded politely and turned to his own thoughts, such as devising yet another way to rearrange his books.
Dear Miss Manners: I suspect this problem may test your talents: What do you, politely, do to stop an overweight man (and, yes, its ALWAYS an overweight MAN) from rocking back and forth on dining-room chairs?
In affluent circles, I'm sure the host or hostess could suggest that "Gentlemen retire to the library." For people such as us, it would appear that we have only two polite options: We can ignore him, and hope the chair is not demolished; or we can ignore him, and replace the broken chair.
Strangely, these overweight louts are always accompanied by charming and gracious wives.
Gentle reader: You are going to have to try harder to test Miss Manners' talents. The trick of saving both the guests' feelings and the host's furniture is not difficult once you know how.
What you do is call out in alarm - not about the chair, but about the guest - "Oh, dear, watch out! I'm afraid that chair is fragile! I'm terribly sorry, but it's only just strong enough for you to perch on. If you want to lean back, let me find you something sturdier, before you get hurt."