The Next Chapter

Brian Francis checks out 3 books that will help you mind your manners

The author of the novel Fruit picks out etiquette manuals dating as far back as 500 years ago.
Brian Francis wears many hats: novelist (Fruit and Natural Order), Quill and Quire's Ask the Agony editor, columnist for The Next Chapter and former food blogger of Caker Cooking. (Free Spirit/Penguin/Paula Wilson/Appetite by Random House)

Brian Francis knows the world isn't always a civil place. To counteract this, The Next Chapter columnist checked out three books on civility and good manners. 

The Butler Speaks by Charles MacPherson

Charles MacPherson's reference book,The Butler Speaks, finds everyday applications for food etiquette. (Appetite by Random House)

"MacPherson recommends sending out handwritten thank-you notes rather than emails or texts. He points out there is something to be said about the old-fashioned art of handwriting a card, putting a stamp on it and putting it in the mailbox. Table manners are also a big deal for MacPherson. There are obvious ones, like 'Never tuck your napkin into your collar' — which is something my uncle never knew. I also never knew there was a British and a French style to eating soup. In the first case, you start the spoon at the nearest edge of the bowl and skin the spoon away. French style is when you dip the spoon at the far edge of the bowl and skin the soup toward you. I've done a photo demonstration for spatially challenged people like myself."

Brian Francis demonstrates the genteel way of eating soup. (Brian Francis)

How Rude! by Alex J. Packer

Alex J. Packer is the author of the YA guide How Rude and a specialist in educational and developmental psychology. (Free Spirit)

"In How Rude!, Packer covers a range of topics, including digital civility, cyber bullying and how to deal with rude adults. He points out that good manners put other people at ease; the more at ease they are, the more likely are to agree to your requests. As part of his research, he reached out to parents and asked, 'Why do you think teens are less polite than a generation ago?' One of the reasons was that electronic devices makes everything casual and places less importance on politeness. How Rude! is written for teens and makes the argument that the survival of the human race depends on everyone minding their manners. Manners allow people to live and work together in harmony."

A Handbook on Good Manners for Children by Erasmus

Erasmus's handbook was published in 1530. (Penguin)

"500 years ago, A Handbook on Good Manners for Children by Erasmus was the bestselling book of the 16th century. It was written in 1530 and addresses the importance of manners for kids. Tips for children include: 'A relaxed and smooth forehead indicates a mind with a clean conscience and a gentle nature' — I think it can also indicate Botox in recent times. When it comes to human relationships, he says don't tell secrets if you never want it told: 'It's safest to confide nothing that would embarrass you if it were spread around.' It's something that resonated with me."

Brian Francis's comments have been edited and condensed.