cover image Good Talk: The Story and Skill of Conversation

Good Talk: The Story and Skill of Conversation

Daniel Menaker, . . Hachette/Twelve, $20 (230pp) ISBN 978-0-446-54002-5

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.)