Sunday, March 28, 2010

A Good Talk

Daniel Menaker believes that "Curiosity is the basis of good conversation." And he should know. After all, he's an expert now that he has written a book called A GOOD TALK: THE STORY AND SKILL OF CONVERSATION. Menaker is a former editor from The New Yorker Magazine and Random House, where he edited Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Elizabeth Strout, among others. Menaker is also an accomplished author himself, who has written a novel (The Treatment) and two wonderful collections of  short stories (Friends and Relations and The Old Left). In addition, he was the host of Title Page TV, an on-line program featuring in-depth discussions of books and authors, which was pulled after it ran out of funding. Drats!

The act of conversation is minimalized every day thanks to technologies like email, text messaging and Twitter.  But Menaker's book offers an exploration of conversation as an art form. It is a smart, witty and very insightful account of the history of conversation, and Menaker also offers advice and strategies for how to talk to people you don't know very well. Topics include how to deal with bores, interruptions, name-dropping, repetition, ordering in restaurants and topics of discussion to avoid. Menaker even offers transcripts of actual conversations he has had and then distills them to discover hidden meanings, agendas, and glaring faux pas. As an inquisitive person and a writer who is fascinated by dialogue and how people communicate with each other (things said vs. things not said), it was a fascinating and entertaining read. Be sure to tune in to the video on Mr. Menaker's website, where he undertakes to promote the book via a very clever interview - with himself!