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Talk to the Hand by Lynne Truss

When I read Eats, Shoots & Leaves my junior year of college for my linguistics class, I was taken more by Truss's charm and inherent, ironic humor than I was her actual point. The moral to her story was "the English language is being slowly destroyed" but she told her story through humor, real-life examples, and essentially taught us all grammar through frustration and British-isms.

Her second book, Talk to the Hand, is not as easy to take lightly as Eats Shoots & Leaves is. In fact, the subtitle of Talk to the Hand is "The Utter Bloody Rudeness of the World Today, or Six Good Reasons to Stay Home and Bolt the Door." It sounds like it's going to be what Truss herself calls a "moral homily." Maybe it is a bit of one. But Truss defends her moral position so well and so irreverently that it never reads like a sermon. In fact, it reads more like one giant, well-researched rant.

As a young person, it's surprising I like this book so much, and I think it's because Truss takes the point of view that it's the older generation that mostly subscribes to her position. I disagree. Her book is rooted on several key principles that ring true: it's easier to be superficially connected (but deeply disconnected) to people now than ever before; that we spend more time externalizing than internalizing responsibility and blame; that we as people are fearful of directness, of stating our offense,  and of standing up to others.

Truss's key comes in the fact that she documents many of her points with research, from recent books like Bowling Alone to books on civility from the early 1900s, all of which serve to back up the idea that the world is shifting to a new kind of civility in a violent fashion and it's taking a  number of common courtesies with it. But what Truss does most effectively is holds up her end of the bargain with personal anecdotes that really make the story fly. She is certain that no chapter - no half-chapter - goes without her own empirical evidence of why she does, indeed, have a point.

It does, at a few points, get rambling and a little dull, but the slow points always pick up again in the end when another side-splitting story makes her point better than several pulled-quotes from prominent anthropologists and linguists do. And even in those hiccups - call them rant traffic jams, if you will - she manages to pull out several points that are worth following through to the end.

I rarely laugh aloud with a book, or read this kind of non-fiction and find myself agreeing so whole-heartedly. Truss manages a bit of everything: humor, memoir, research, indignation, and mixes it all together in a book that is, at the root, about manners. It's not as good as Eats, Shoots & Leaves, but so few books are that I am willing to call it a draw.

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buecherwald
the forest-dweller

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