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Yes, Gentle Reader, Miss Manners is at it again

By Hilary DeVriesStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / November 8, 1984



New York

My, my, Miss Manners is prolific isn't she? Barely has the dust settled from the rollicking entrance of the first etiquette epistle, ''Miss Manners' Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior,'' than we are inundated by 389 pages of ''Miss Manners' Guide to Rearing Perfect Children.''

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Oh, indeed.

One can almost feel one's metaphorical knuckles being rapped. Not for failing to use one's fish fork correctly - that was discussed previously - but for violating the rules of the baby-sitting co-op. Or commiting faux pas at parent-teacher conferences. The list might be endless. Or at least worth 389 pages.

Gentle Reader, as Miss Manners herself is wont to say, press on. For this tome on decorum that is receiving all sorts of highly favorable book reviews has at its core nothing less than the ''passing on of civilization'' as we know it. Or at least as we knew it prior to the '60s, a decade that, according to Miss Manners, was ''without rules.''

As a tonic to the aforementioned plight, Miss Manners, who in real life is the syndicated columnist and novelist Ms. Judith Martin, offers her ''primer for everyone worried about the future of civilization.'' What this heir apparent to the etiquette doyennes Emily Post and Amy Vanderbilt proffers is highly practical but spirited counsel on modern-day manners and morals common to that process known as child-rearing. Wit is arguably one of Ms. Martin's strong suits , as is her no-nonsense advice.

''The baby doesn't think, 'Well I'm hungry, but if I wait a few hours they'll be less reluctant to get up,' '' Ms. Martin says, looking very proper during a recent interview in her high-necked blouse and antique garnet earrings. ''It's very hard to teach a child to let somebody play with his toys or to wait. But that's what civilization is all about, and you have to start very young.''

Talking with Ms. Martin is no schmooze over the back fence. Just as she crisply stated her intent in her book: ''A good parent owes it to a child to teach manners as an interesting and useful skill, and not as a subject that is invoked to condemn whatever the child happens to be doing when the adult is feeling irritable,'' so does she mince no words in person.

''Things were in a rock-bottom state when I first went into the etiquette trade six years ago,'' she says, sounding not unlike a modern Mary Poppins, ''but now there is a realization that you don't have to live in a world where everyone is rude.''

In waging her genteel war on rudeness - which, by the way, does not permit ''being ruder back'' - Ms. Martin has modeled her second etiquette book on her column format: a brief commentary on a particular social breach followed by answers from ''Miss Manners'' to the ''Gentle Reader,'' one of 200 letters she receives weekly. Interspersed with her advice on the etiquette of braces, car pools, and the like, Ms. Martin tosses in counsel that will warm parents' hearts everywhere: ''The chief tools of child-rearing are nagging and example.'' ''Lecturing, in Miss Manners's opinion, is one of the rewards of child-rearing....''

However, lest anyone think the author is one-sided, Ms. Martin throws out some for the children who may be listening: ''Properly done, a sulk is wildly irritating to the parent ... the ideal revenge of a theoretically powerless person on a supposedly powerful one.''