Once a week Philip Galanes answers questions about how to act and react in a
polite society -- a different path from his livelihood as an entertainment
lawyer. And his job as an interior design consultant for private clients. And
another job as a novelist, first with "Father's Day" in 2004 and then with
"Emma's Table" in 2008.
But the questions are perfect for his Social Q's column, which runs each Sunday in The New York Times. Galanes gathered several of his most popular and most peculiar questions in a book called "Social Q's: How to Survive the Quirks, Quandaries, and Quagmires of Today" (Simon & Schuster).
In a recent email conversation, the obviously busy Galanes answered our questions about being an old-fashioned advice columnist in a digital world.
Q. Do you feel vulnerable about your manners, your mood, or your social skills since writing the book? I know you have an earlier book and a successful law/design/writing career but now that people everywhere can recognize you, does that celebrity come with a sense of always being on your toes?
A. Not at all! Part of my philosophy at "Social Q's" -- both the column and the book -- is that we all have our blind spots, and we all screw up. That's just human. It's how we bounce back that's important. And that's what I try to help folks do. And lucky for me, I see no reason to hold myself to a higher standard. We're all doing the best we can -- and in fairness, it's a complicated world.
Q. You were interviewed by Terry Gross for "Fresh Air" and you talked about reading Dear Abby aloud to your family. Most advice readers were divided between two camps -- Team Abby or Team Ann. Did you choose Abby or was Abby thrust upon you based on your newspaper? And did you have interest or follow that sibling rivalry?
A. Well, my earliest exposure was to "Dear Abby," and she just cast a spell over me. As a kid, I took so much comfort in the fact that there was this sensible woman who could help us navigate the world. (And the fact that it was in print made it seem all the more reliable.) Of course, later, I discovered Ann Landers. Both ladies were terrific, but Abby had that sensational voice: world-wise and a little acid and laugh-out-loud funny. And when I found out that they were sisters -- well, that just blew my mind! Two sisters with the best jobs in America. Wow!
Q. An editor from the Times read your book "Emma's Table" and liked your style, which led to an offer to write the Social Q's column. Did you accept right away, or think long and hard about what a chore it might be?
A. I said yes so fast it blew my socks off! As soon as I started discussing an advice column with the Times, I knew it was exactly what I wanted to do. And for a guy with lots of opinions and buttinski impulses, it's about as good a job as I can imagine.
Q. Do you sometimes feel like you live among savages?
A. It's funny you ask. Because I've been waiting for the column to feel like a job for years now. I've been at it for four years. But it never has. Every week, there's a new letter (or 20) that gets me excited all over again. And I can't wait to dig in. Then there's the huge reader feedback, both pro and con. And that's even more exciting. Like having a conversation about the trickiest parts of living in the world today. Writing the column -- and the
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