Dear Miss Manners: I am afraid that I am one of those people who tend not to respond to invitations if I don't wish to accept.
Why, you ask?
I have found that declining an invitation has become merely the opening of negotiations. The host will want to know why I have said no and try to turn my answer to yes. I readily admit that I need to grow a spine, but I think people need to stop prying into other people's business!
Gentle Reader: And thus we have a spiral of rudeness emerging from a courtesy, the offer of hospitality.
Indeed, your would-be hosts are rude to probe and argue when you decline an invitation. Rather like hosts who keep urging food on guests who have declined, they seem to think that as offering is good, insisting must be even better. It isn't.
However, Miss Manners considers your reciprocal rudeness even ruder. By ignoring invitations, you are snubbing and seriously inconveniencing people who, at that point, have been nothing but hospitable.
What you need is not a spine, but patience. Rather than give reasons for declining, which, as you know, will be countered, just keep restating your inability to accept:
"You are so kind to ask me, but I'm so sorry, I can't."
"I'm afraid I'm busy then."
What are you doing?
"I have other commitments."
What are they?
"Other commitments. You are so kind to ask me, but "
And so on, until you exhaust your interrogator or the battery on your telephone wears out.
Return book with thanks
Dear Miss Manners: A friend has lent me a book about a subject that is of interest to me. I am halfway through the book (more than 200 pages so far) and find it not very well written.
Would it be impolite of me not to finish the book? My feeling is that I must finish the book in order to be truthful in saying that I did indeed read it.
Gentle Reader: Are you saying that one has to read every word of a book to claim to have read it, or, for that matter, to deliver an opinion about it? Are you trying to muzzle intellectual society?
Your friend is not going to quiz you. You need only return the book with thanks and, if possible, mumble that it had a good point or two. If not, you can always say that it is interesting to know what is being said in the field.
Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.