Would It Kill You To Stop Doing That?

Alford has written for Vanity Fair, The NY Times and The New Yorker.  He has written three books and is often heard on NPR.  This book is not intended to be a reference manual.  It is filled with colorful and interesting stories, anecdotes, surveys, experiments and interviews.  I anticipated logical sequencing and organization prior to opening the cover of a “Modern Guide to Manners.”  You won’t find that here in this well written, sometimes amusing but mostly frustrating random walk on the subject.  He 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 (on Facebook)?  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 reduce 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)

Bottom Line, another viewer used the word “desultory” when describing this book.  I had to look up the definition.  The word captures it.  In this book, the author is having a “desultory conversation” with his readers.  I loved his rapier wit and anecdotes.  However, this book lacked structure, depth and a logical flow.  I gave it a three-star rating on Amazon.


  1. Lacking a plan, purpose, or enthusiasm.
  2. (of conversation or speech) Going from one subject to another in a halfhearted way; unfocused: “desultory conversation”.
incoherent – disconnected – disjointed – rambling

Related Links:
Amazon Link: Would It Kill You To Stop Doing That by Henry Alford
NY Times Sunday Book Review: Henry Alford On How To Behave
NPR Books: ‘Would It Kill You To Stop Doing That’ Rethinks Rude


  1. I was not aware of that book before stopping by here. I’ll have to add it to my wish list.


  2. Thanks David. I definitely need to get this book. Some of the topics you mentioned have been discussed a lot by my husband and I. Especially the first two. People sending me a Happy BIrthday by text (closely related) and after writing a long email, receiving THX….
    With all the technology, we are losing the human touch that we all need 😉


  3. interesting read – the title grabbed me. thank you for sharing the juiciest pieces for a three-star book. (smile)


  4. Love the heads up on the book. It’s a peeve of mine, how we are becoming de-sensitized in my opinion, almost dehumanized, slaves to our gadgets often forgetting and/or forgoing the simple beauty of a kinder, more thoughtful response. Modern manners revamped for the world now, love it.


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