Modern Manners by P.J O’Rourke


“Manners are what your mother always wanted you to have. Whether your mother is a noble altruist or scheming bitch is something that must be decided by you.”

Modern Manners by P.J. O’Rourke is not your typical literary fare, in fact, perhaps the best way to describe it would be to call it “politically incorrect”. It is not crude, but also far from being inoffensive. Advertised as ‘An etiquette book for rude people’, this ‘self-help’ book starts off mildly amusing and ends hilarious. Covering general topics such as ‘Rules To Live By in a World With No Rules’, ‘Men, Women, and Other People’, ‘Formal Etiquette’, ‘The Entertaining Part of Life,’ and others, popular humorist O’Rourke provides an irreverent send-up of the world of politeness. Especially poignant for those of us who may have had to struggle to learn these rules, this book also manages to be strangely correct (as far as the average person knows) about a number of topics, with his commentary on Men’s Fashion providing the clearest example of this.

“The rich are the only people in the world who actually wear sport coats to play sports in. So don’t wear a tweed jacket to work unless you expect to flush a covey of quail from behind the Xerox machine. The only exception is the blue blazer, which is the rich man’s way of saying, “I’m going straight from the office to my boat and won’t have time to change.”

It appears that O’Rourke can not let three sentences go by without making some wisecrack or another, and while this sets quite a pace during the best portions of the book, some fall flat, inevitable considering the high volume of jokes. The book generally moves through cycles, with one chapter or another being particularly funny, and the next being rather less. The first one and a half sections are especially dull, but push on past those two and the book only gets better.

The best section of the book would be (for me) the section on “Real Parties”. To explain what O’Rourke means by ‘Real Parties’, well, I’ll let him describe it.

  • Real Parties never start until after midnight.
  • No friendships or romantic relationships should survive a real party fully intact.
  • Neither should much furniture.
  • Someone should have underpants on his head by 2 AM.
  • By 3 AM someone should have called the police.
  • Someone else should have called George Bush long distance to invite him over.

These kinds of parties can never be real parties:

  • Office Christmas parties.
  • Wine-tasting parties.
  • Book-publishing parties.
  • Parties with themes, such as “Las Vegas Nite”, or “Waikiki Whoopee”.
  • Parties at which anyone is wearing a blue velvet tuxedo jacket.
  • The Republican Party

This is one of the longest stretches of the book in which O’Rourke does not reference cocaine or some other kind of drug at least once. There are many, many jokes about drugs in this book, randomly interspersed throughout, though there are a greater number, as one would expect, in the rest of the section about parties.

This book does not read like a normal book, with any sort of coherent plot, and barely even an overarching theme, instead this book reads like a grouping of magazine clippings stuck together in book format. As a result, it is easy to read this book in small bites, and in fact the best way to do so. One can easily read a chapter a day, even at the same time as another book (I read it concurrently with Dante’s Inferno so rest assured, it can really go with anything.) As this book lacks any characters, it is impossible to judge it based on their merits. The prose is well, comedic, and while the writing itself is not especially beautiful, it certainly serves its purpose and makes you laugh. This is a very funny book, and while not the funniest I’ve ever read, it’s well worth a look if your spirits need lifting, or are just in the mood for a good laugh.

Final Rating: 7/10


One thought on “Modern Manners by P.J O’Rourke

  1. C.Hill says:

    “This is one of the longest stretches of the book in which O’Rourke does not reference cocaine…”

    You had me sold there.

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