This morning, The Cut published its definitive guide to contemporary etiquette, from ghosting to tipping to navigating varying levels of COVID caution. The list contained plenty of fascinating and discourse-generating takeaways (though I haven’t yet seen anyone address the wild revelation that former Vogue editor Lauren Santo Domingo believes one should “Never ask your guests to smoke outside.”) And for the purposes of Book Twitter, the very first rule—“You don’t have to read anyone’s book”—proved to be the most controversial of all.
To be clear, the substance of the rule—“Life is finite. We can’t be expected to spend all our time metabolizing content by friends or friends of friends.”—is perfectly sound. It was the suggestion of what to say to a recently published friend whose work you haven’t read that raised some eyebrows: “[S]ay something about how impressive it is that they’ve created something in the first place. ‘What a feat!’ (with a cheerful hand gesture) is always effective.”
As a person with a book coming out soon, I can tell you that there is no hand gesture cheerful enough to make What a feat! a thing I would want to hear from a friend. Or even a friend of a friend. If someone said What a feat! to me, I would absolutely assume they had read the book and hated it, and I would think about it for the rest of my life. Which isn’t to say I expect everyone I know to read my book! (Only everyone I’ve ever dated.) I do, however, have some suggestions for less-devastating deflections to offer:
• “Ah, I’m so glad you reminded me to order it!” (Here you must take out your phone and either pretend to order it or—better!—actually order it. Most people care more about you ordering it than reading it anyway.)
• “My copy is sitting on my bedside table! I’m so excited to read it!” (Again, you bought it! Great job! This one is slightly dishonest if you don’t plan on reading the book ever, but really, who knows what the future holds?)
• “You published a book! Amazing! But how are you doing?” (From what I understand, releasing a book is a real whirlwind, so focusing on the author’s mental state rather than the work itself is akin to asking a new parent about themself rather than the kid.)
• “Do you ever sleep?” (Okay, this one is similar to “What a feat,” I’ll admit, but I think focusing on the actual sacrifice required makes it slightly less condescending. Plus, it’s a kindness to give someone a conversational opening in which to discuss their exhaustion.)
• “I’m seeing it everywhere!” (Could be a lie, but it’s a kind lie!)
• “I’ve been bragging to everyone that I actually know you!” (Hopefully, this will make your friend feel proud enough that they won’t care that you have expressed no interest in buying or reading their book.)
• “HOLY SHIT YOU WROTE A BOOK!” (with an exuberant hand gesture).
Hey, when in doubt, lead with overwhelming enthusiasm!