I’m a fan of Project Runway and who doesn’t adore Tim Gunn? He’s the uptight yet charming and adorable mentor who has definite rules about what he likes and doesn’t like. However he delivers those criticisms with such an engaging manner that you can’t help but love him even as he so charmingly tells the designer it’s all crap. That kind of dichotomy is on full display in his Guide to Making it Work.
Though this is technically an etiquette book and filled with rules on manners, the main take away message is always be polite, the writing is more memoir style than anything. Gunn’s internal voice wanders frequently, injecting stories and memories into chapters that sometimes reflect the rule he’s trying to teach but mostly are just stories he wants to share. Sometimes the story dovetail perfectly as an example, such as showing how failing to be polite can bite you in the ass, but sometimes the stories come off as slightly weird and out of place, such as the whole tidbit about Hoover in drag.
While this may not be the most focused, cohesive narrative, it’s absolutely one I loved and couldn’t put down. Gunn’s voice is instantly engaging and he comes across as a real gentleman, one of the last remaining polite people around. He shows how he breaks his own rules yet struggles to do the right thing each time. He may not always succeed and he’s guilty of breaking his own rules within the pages of his book but overall his infractions are minor and to the reader’s benefit.
There is a lot of personal information about Gunn offered when he talks about his difficult family relationships, his one attempt at a relationship that failed and he’s never had another lover, coping with his sexuality and lack thereof, and above all his belief in himself and contentment with his life. He doesn’t necessarily advocate his lifestyle and choices to others, but he explains the inherent benefits they’ve given him and why he’s happy alone. He talks about how being polite is never a wrong choice and how it’s literally led him to his success.
While Gunn is a great storyteller, abet a bit unfocused and all over the place, he comes across as somewhat pandering in a few places. I don’t hold this against him in anyway because I simply love his voice and good nature, but he does simplify a lot of problems people face with the advice of taking the high road or simply being nice. It’s a great idea and theory and Gunn does show how he frequently struggles with such advice himself but he keeps the tone intentionally light and thus the impact of his advice is similar to a virtual pat on the head at times.
However this again is a very minor complaint against a book filled with entertaining stories and good insight. Gunn is truly the consummate gentleman and even when offering gossipy backstories he maintains his dignity and never gets nasty. He’s just a little bit salacious while maintaining an innocent expression. It’s delicious and creates a book you simply don’t want to end. It’s a small book but one that I’ll likely give to everyone I know.