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If you were unlucky enough to be born a slave in the 19th century, there were a great many rules to keep you in your lowly place—right down to the clothes on your back. The South Carolina legislature saw to it that slaves were forbidden to wear silk, satin or lace lest they think too highly of themselves.

A hundred years before that, Massachusetts courts, hoping to keep the common people in check, rebuked men and women of humble means for wearing gold, silver, lace and silk. This, they said, was to protect people from the sin of pride. In truth, they only wanted to make themselves look superior to the people they ruled. I don’t know about you, but that would cramp my style.

Viva la manners!

These are just a few of the nuggets found in Judith Martin’s book, Star-Spangled Manners, a retrospective of American etiquette and a fun Fourth-of-July-read that brings insight to our culture’s system of manners.

If you feel sometimes that etiquette is terminally ill, take encouragement from this site, where you can pose questions and get answers to your etiquette questions—proof that good manners haven’t gone out of style.

Books aren’t dead.

People have long been forecasting the death of books, but so far, it hasn’t happened. Instead, we’re seeing an increase of reading from electronic devices. Reading is bigger than ever! And ultimately, many people who read on devices are returning in droves to paper and ink for some kinds of reading. (Here’s some interesting food for thought about why in an article found in Scientific American.)

For people worried about the state of books, check out author Jeffrey Deaver’s poem, The Death of Reading. Deaver recited it as part of his speech at the American Library Association’s Gala Author Tea on Monday.

I go to this event almost every year and it’s always a thrill—two solid hours of tea, librarians, authors and books. What’s not to love? Plus, I walk away with five autographed books like the pile in this photo above.

Lessons from the Brits

Our libraries are stronger than our neighbors’ over the pond. Great Britain is closing public libraries at an alarming rate, according to two British authors who spoke at the same event. Jojo Moyes and Mark Billingham both mentioned the plight of their country’s libraries and encouraged American librarians to remain strong.

One of them cited Winston Churchill’s response to the suggestion that the nation’s arts budget be trimmed to finance World War II. “What would we be fighting for?” Churchill answered. That’s not exactly what Churchill said. He said this instead: “The arts are essential to any complete national life. The State owes it to itself to sustain and encourage them. Ill fares the race which fails to salute the arts with the reverence and delight which are their due.”

What’s keeping American libraries strong?

One of the happiest consequences of blogging has been meeting other people with the same passions. Case in point: Teatime with Trina—lover of tea, clothes, and books—not necessarily in that order. After last week’s post, I learned that Trina is a devoted library volunteer who reads to children at her local public library. Friends, if our libraries are stronger than those over the pond, make no mistake—volunteers are part of the reason.

Did you know that you can download books to your electronic reader at most public libraries? If you’re not sure how, ask me and I’ll be glad to help!

Life is short. Wear the good stuff.