By explaining how to do things, book can help the nervous be more secure


Have you taught your children how to carve a turkey, iron a shirt, write a thank-you note, jump-start a car, lay a fire, unclog a drain, change a fuse, arrange flowers and wrap a present?

Need a little help yourself?

"Rising to the Occasion: A Practical Companion for the Occasionally Perplexed," by Edith Hazard and Wallace Pinfold (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, $14.95) is an amusing collection of how-to's forwhat used to be considered the basics of civilized life.

For instance, there's a chapter devoted to the proper kind of handshake:

"The best way is to take a firm, but not bone-crushing, grip on the whole hand of the person you're being introduced to and shake it up and down. Avoid a back and forth motion. More than three times up and down and it will look as if you're recreating a Three Stooges routine. Nor, unless you're a minister or a grandmother, should you retain the hand you're shaking."

"I've always wondered about the people who give you those weak handshakes . . . and think they're doing exactly the right thing," says author Edith Hazard.

Ms. Hazard began to suspect Americans might need more extensive help with the basics when her college-age son brought her a troubling tale: One of his classmate's parents had never used their fireplaces because they did not know how to lay a fire. When she told this to her old friend Wally Pinfold -- a fellow whose parents had taught him not only social graces but also practical skills -- they began investigating widespread cultural "don't know hows" which became the basis of their first book.

In fact, they found enough for at least two books. (The second is on the way.) Meanwhile, "Rising to the Occasion" will also teach you how to dance the waltz, compute taxi and restaurant service tips, open a bottle of champagne, boil an egg, replace a pane of glass, entertain a child, pack a suitcase and back up a trailer.

Etiquette queen Letitia Baldrige -- a new volume of her best-selling "Executive Manners" will be published this fall -- embraces the book's goals.

"I welcome any book that is written on how to feel secure, how to make other people feel secure and how to move with grace through life," she says.

Ms. Hazard believes the confidence that comes from self-reliance can smooth some of life's rougher edges in two-career as well as single-parent households.

"As our society withdraws from inter-generational living, we tend to reflect only on what we're doing. Sometimes that has to be the most expedient thing: If a single mother comes home and faces three children to feed, she can only think about getting dinner on the table quickly," she says. "As a result, though, I think people have become more callous to others' feelings and needs."

And the biggest lesson she learned from her own book? "I sort of knew how to change a fuse, but it still makes me nervous to do it," she confesses. "And I didn't know how to back up a trailer. If you can do that, it really does stop people in their tracks. As it should."

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