A Good Talk: The Story and Skill of Conversation

A Good Talk: The Story and Skill of Conversation

by Daniel Menaker
     
 

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A GOOD TALK is an analysis of and guide to that most exclusively human of all activities— conversation.

Drawing on over forty years of experience in American letters, Menaker pinpoints the factors that drive and enliven every good conversation: the vagaries (and joys) of subtext; the deeper structure and meaning of conversational flow; the

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Overview

A GOOD TALK is an analysis of and guide to that most exclusively human of all activities— conversation.

Drawing on over forty years of experience in American letters, Menaker pinpoints the factors that drive and enliven every good conversation: the vagaries (and joys) of subtext; the deeper structure and meaning of conversational flow; the subliminal signals that guide our disclosures and confessions; and the countless other hurdles we must clear along the way. Moving beyond self-help musings and "how to" advice, he has created a stylish, funny, and surprising book: a celebration of "the most excusively human of all activities."

In a time when conversation remains deeply important— for building relationships, for relaxing, even for figuring out who we are— and also increasingly imperiled (with Blackberries and texting increasingly in vogue), A GOOD TALK is a refreshing celebration of the subtle adventures of a good conversation.

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Editorial Reviews

Lisa Bonos
Reading about conversation might seem paradoxical: a solitary take on a social activity. But Daniel Menaker's A Good Talk evokes its subject by taking on a personal, conversational tone. Menaker draws on a wide array of sources—from Socrates to Samuel Johnson to Deborah Tannen—to explain how conversation has evolved and how it works—or doesn't.
—The Washington Post
Megan Buskey
It takes nerve to write a book about conversation, given the well-conceived examples already on the market—Cicero, anyone? In this breezy primer, Menaker…adds an urbane, contemporary cast to the discussion of what makes for good talk and why…Menaker's analysis is generally sound and insightful.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
A fiction writer and former editor at the New Yorker and Random House, Menaker (The Treatment) regards conversation as “a human art of great importance produced by all people everywhere.” His witty approach is evident almost immediately, as he speculates on the creation of human language, moving on to the general rules of conversation, London coffeehouses as a forum for ideas, greetings, and name-droppers: “They wrap the pig of name-dropping in a blanket of casualness, or even criticalness, and seem to actually believe you won't taste the inner wiener.” At the book's core is a conversation between Menaker and an anonymous female writer. Taped in a Brooklyn restaurant, this lengthy transcript is analyzed in detail to show how the participants take risks, seek a “common ground,” interject humor, and discover perceptive insights about each other. Interview tactics and prepared remarks are covered, along with e-mail embarrassments, dating stratagems, sarcastic barbs, compliments, and interruptions. However, what makes a lasting impression is the parade of anecdotes about life in the corridors of the New Yorker and Random House, leaving the reader yearning for a full-scale Menaker memoir. (Jan.)
Library Journal
A 26-year veteran of The New Yorker, Menaker here probes the origin and subtexts of everyday human interactions, exploring how conversations take shape and progress. At their best, they're a form of art, but conversation is not always smooth and charming. For people who often find their way into conversational pitfalls, Menaker packs an entire chapter full of advice. He differentiates between conversation that's aimless and purposeless and, among other topics, takes aim at name-droppers. In the hands of a less-skilled writer, this topic could have drowned in textbook-style overanalysis, but Menaker's book is filled with ample doses of humor and should be especially welcomed by wordsmiths and conversationalists.
Kirkus Reviews
A former book editor and New Yorker staffer weighs in on the history, strategies and significance of conversation, "a human art of great importance produced by all people everywhere."Menaker (The Treatment, 1998, etc.), has a busy agenda: to sketch the history of human spoken intercourse, which "had to begin with grunts"; summarize some key theories about the nature of talk; analyze an edited, though lengthy, version of a recording of an actual conversation he shared with a colleague (she knew the recorder was running); examine conversation-starters and -stoppers; and offer some Dr. Philian how-to-do-it banalities. Menaker's wit is evident throughout, and the tone is generally amiable, even avuncular-and yes, conversational. He employs self-deprecation appealingly, and his allusions leap around unpredictably, visiting both high and low culture along the way. Accordingly, the author glances at Beethoven, Randy Travis, Aristotle, William Shawn, Buddy Holly, Grendel, Linda Blair, Gary Cooper and Max von Sydow, among dozens of others. Menaker has little ill to say of anyone, though he takes a poke at Alan Cheuse and at some unnamed people who once said something inappropriate in conversation with him. Of greatest interest are some early comments about the evolution of conversation and some observations at the end about oxytocin, the "cuddle hormone" that apparently bubbles away nicely during and after a good chat. Less appealing are the author's self-help prescriptions-lists of dos and don'ts and anecdotes about people who did X and Y ensued. Some of the sections seem more fitting for an in-flight magazine than for a serious discussion of . . . discussion. A thin broth containing a few chunkymorsels. Agent: Esther Newberg/ICM
Gail Saltz
"Just when it seems our society has forgotten how vital it is to our health and well being to have both intimate and public productive conversation, Daniel Menaker brings us "A Good Talk." This intelligent and thoughtful exploration of human communication happens to be very entertaining, but more importantly it provides a roadmap for enhancing your own relationships with good talk."
author of The Dive from Clausen's Pier Ann Packer
"How can a single book be so learned, so wise, so helpful, and so short? A Good Talk is a great delight."
author of Stiff Mary Roach
"The art of conversation is in decline, and Daniel Menaker has hastened that decline by writing prose that is so funny, surprising, and habit-forming that the reader is inclined to cancel all social engagements and stay in at night with this book. I don't know about you, but I find it hard to resist an author who compares Socrates to
Columbo."
--Billy Collins
"I might have guessed that Daniel Menaker could talk about talk with the same facility and charm that he can bring to any conversation. Still, A GOOD TALK, his lively analysis of the workings of social speech, comes as a delightful revelation."
—Billy Collins
"I might have guessed that Daniel Menaker could talk about talk with the same facility and charm that he can bring to any conversation. Still, A GOOD TALK, his lively analysis of the workings of social speech, comes as a delightful revelation."
From the Publisher
"I might have guessed that Daniel Menaker could talk about talk with the same facility and charm that he can bring to any conversation. Still, A GOOD TALK, his lively analysis of the workings of social speech, comes as a delightful revelation."——Billy Collins, former Poet Laureate of the United States and author of Ballistics"

The art of conversation is in decline, and Daniel Menaker has hastened that decline by writing prose that is so funny, surprising, and habit-forming that the reader is inclined to cancel all social engagements and stay in at night with this book. I don't know about you, but I find it hard to resist an author who compares Socrates to
Columbo."—Mary Roach, author of Stiff"

How can a single book be so learned, so wise, so helpful, and so short? A Good Talk is a great delight."—Ann Packer, author of The Dive from Clausen's Pier"

Just when it seems our society has forgotten how vital it is to our health and well being to have both intimate and public productive conversation, Daniel Menaker brings us "A Good Talk." This intelligent and thoughtful exploration of human communication happens to be very entertaining, but more importantly it provides a roadmap for enhancing your own relationships with good talk." —Gail Saltz, M.D. Psychiatrist, Psychoanalyst, and Today Show Contributor

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780446540025
Publisher:
Grand Central Publishing
Publication date:
01/04/2010
Pages:
230
Product dimensions:
5.80(w) x 8.50(h) x 1.10(d)

Meet the Author

Daniel Menaker has been a part of America's life of letters for almost forty years. As a writer, he has met and talked to thousands of people about their work and their lives. He is widely read and well versed in psychological literature and practices and, as an editor at Random House, has had countless meetings and other exchanges with writers, agents, public figures, and ordinary people. His own writing has appeared in the New Yorker, the New York Times, and Slate; he lives in New York with his wife and their two children.

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