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A Good Talk: The Story and Skill of Conversation Hardcover – January 4, 2010


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Twelve; 1 edition (January 4, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0446540021
  • ISBN-13: 978-0446540025
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 2.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #434,851 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From 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.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

A New Yorker editor for 26 years, Menaker views conversation as artifact, tracing its prehistoric beginnings with glottological theories on physical changes in the hominid larynx and mutation of the FoxP2 gene, which helped develop brain areas conducive to language, all before hominids left Africa. He posits that conversation developed as a hands-free substitute for socially interactive grooming, as with chimps, and, moving forward, considers conversation as aimless: not without aim, but without purpose, something that Americans, more than other modern societies, have been traditionally critical of. Within the context of the persistent legacy of Puritan “sobriety and pioneer pragmatism” favoring “those who talk little and accomplish much,” he seamlessly entwines his own wryly humorous observations, dialogue from Jonathon Swift and Fred and Ginger, discussion of the chi energy of conversation, and FAQ: Frequently Arising Quandries. These last include “Insults” (subdivided into Inadvertent Affronts and Deliberate, Frontal Attack), “Prepared Remarks,” and “Dating,” which includes observations by Samuel Johnson plus notes on seduction and courtship. A charming, useful, and entertaining approach to a fascinating topic. --Whitney Scott

More About the Author

I was born in in New York City in 1941, to a mother, Mary Randolph Grace, a Bryn Mawr classics major from a fancy WASP family, and a father whose parents refused to marry because they were radicals and believed that marriage was a form of State oppression. His name was Robert Owen Menaker and his six brothers also bore utopian names--William Morris Menaker, Frederick Engels Menaker, Nicholas Chernechevsky Menaker, and so on. I attended the Little Red Schoolhouse in Greenwich Village, Nyack High School, Swarthmore College, and the Johns Hopkins University, where I earned a Master's Degree in English Literature. I taught high-school English for two years and went on to work as a fact checker, copy editor, and editor for The New Yorker Magazine. After twenty-six years at The New Yorker, I became an editor at Random House and eventually was named Editor-in-Chief. I've worked with David Foster Wallace, Salman Rushdie, Nassim Taleb, Curtis Sittenfeld, Michael Chabon, Michael Cunningham, Janet Malcolm, Elmore Leonard, Jonathan Kellerman, Elizabeth Strout, Colum McCann, Jennifer Egan, Daniel Silva, Billy Collins, George Saunders, and many, many others.

I married author and New York Times editor Katherine Bouton in 1980, and we have two children, a boy (now a young man) named William Michael Grace Menaker, the "Michael Grace" being my late brother's name--he died when he was twenty-nine and I was twenty-six--and a girl (now a young woman), Elizabeth Grace Menaker. Will is book publishing and Elizabeth is a social worker.

I have written six books, two of them New york Times Notable titles and one of them the basis of a movie called "The Treatment," with Ian Holm and Famke Janssen. I've also written humor and articles, reviews, and essays for many, many publications, including, most prominently, The New Yorker. One of my humor pieces, "The Worst" was blessed with a fan letter from Groucho Marx. I've served on the Board of the Poetry Foundation, conducted a six-episode online author-interview program, titlepage.tv, in other venues (PEN Symphony Space, the Brooklyn Academy of Music) have interviewed dozens of writers, am a professor in the MFA program at Stony Brook University, have taught a humor-writing course at Columbia, and have traveled to Nepal and the country of Georgia on cultural missions for the United States State Department.

I can sing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" one note behind the melody. My family has a dog named Maxwell, named after my teacher at Tne New Yorker, William Maxwell. I captained Swarthmore's soccer team to a 2-10 record my senior year. I have shaken hands with Muhammad Ali, who gave me an autograph to give to my son.

For more than five years I have fought lung cancer, for the time being successfully, And you had better knock wood for me right now, unless you are in the Tea Party and don't care for the cut of my political jib. My blog, seriously outdated right now and consisting in the last few years of a series of conversations about medical treatment, can be found at danielmenaker.com.

My new book, a memoir called "My Mistake," will be published by Houghton Mifflin in November of 2013.

If you've gotten this far, thank you for your patience, however inexplicable.

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Customer Reviews

Complete waste of money and the little time it took to read.
W. R. Draznik
And that is how the book feels, like the author put his thoughts to the page without much research or consideration for the reader.
A. Sander
If you're looking for a story about the history and context of conversation, you might find the book interesting, but I doubt it.
P. Hixon

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

49 of 57 people found the following review helpful By C. Lewis on December 30, 2009
Format: Hardcover
The book itself it witty and engaging. I found myself not wanting to put the book down as I was drawn into the history and discourse of talking. It may sound dull, but believe me it isn't. Each chapter has conversations that are great examples of the topic that he is trying to cover which truly allows the reader to understand the concepts at a much deeper level.

As I work in a profession that requires a lot of talking, this book was rather relevant. I run into people daily who have a lack of skill when it comes to conversing with others. I even find at times that conversation does not always come naturally, thus this book was a great find and a great read, as it makes you look at conversing with others in a different light and allows you to work step by step to build yourself into a better conversationalist as well as becomming a better person in society.
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27 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Drea Knufken on March 16, 2010
Format: Hardcover
A stranger in an airplane sparked a conversation with me the other day. Rather than the usual awkward seatmate dialogue, we ended up having a good conversation.

He told me about his time in Iraq and playing craps in Vegas. I told him about my visit to Laos, where he would be stationed next. Although our half-hour exchange may have felt like little more than a way to pass time, we were actually discovering connections, establishing common ground, and taking on roles.

I didn't realize this until about a week later, when I read "A Good Talk: The Story and Skill of Conversation, former New Yorker editor Daniel Menaker's latest book." In his seven-chapter discourse on conversation, Menaker explains the evolution, mechanics, and benefits of human conversation. His entertaining new read offers a fresh perspective on how and why conversations play significant roles in our lives.

Inside the Book

Menaker has a tendency to elaborate and digress. He shows this habit right from the beginning, with 22 pages of opening remarks.

In his wordy, amusing style, he speculates on the origin and evolution of conversation. He makes points about the essence of conversation by referring to various social science studies. You leave those opening remarks with a clearer sense of why conversation is hard to study, what makes it unique, and where it probably came from. You also feel like Menaker has talked to you, a theme that continues throughout the book.

Next, Menaker explores the history of conversation, from Socrates to talk shows. He goes on to break down the components of a conversation, using a long transcribed conversation between himself and an acquaintance as a case study.
Read more ›
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31 of 36 people found the following review helpful By A. Sander on January 9, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I sought practical advice like many of the other reviewers and I found some. But the book is filled with self referential writing, making for a boring read. At one point the author mentioned that he tried to find people to record for conversation but failing to find many willing volunteers records his own conversation with a friend (for two chapters of a seven chapter book). Instead of finding a sparkling example of fine conversation, we end up with whatever he could think of at the time. And that is how the book feels, like the author put his thoughts to the page without much research or consideration for the reader.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By My Four Monkeys blog on January 22, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I'll be honest, while I appreciated the humor, I had a hard time getting into this book. This author is extremely well educated and unlike little old hillbilly me, he knows lots of big words. :) I really enjoyed his chapter on FAQ's though, including tips on how to create great email correspondence, how to deal with a boring conversation, tips on changing the subject, and how to deal with insults even if you were the one who accidentally made the insult. The author does an excellent job of touching on all the skills necessary for rewarding face-to-face conversation. While it may not have been my favorite read of late, I did appreciate the insight and information the book provided.
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29 of 36 people found the following review helpful By P. Hixon on January 6, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I was expecting a book about the mechanics of good conversation, with tips to enhance one's skill. Instead, this book starts back at the time of Socrates and works through to the present day in an attempt to give an historical look back at the origins of today's conversation. The book attempts to be witty, but comes off as trying too hard. If you're looking for a book to help you become a better conversationalist, this book is not for you. If you're looking for a story about the history and context of conversation, you might find the book interesting, but I doubt it.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Christine Pefley on January 30, 2010
Format: Kindle Edition
Daniel Menaker can turn a phrase and be quite humorous - and remarkably long-winded. The author quotes a friend who asks "What does Dan know about conversation?". The friend was right.

If you are looking for a good book on conversation, or even just an interesting read to pass the time, look elsewhere.
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29 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Vicki on December 31, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I thought this book would be rather dull and text book like, but it wasn't. It was very interesting and humorous, which made it so much better than I thought it would be.

The Contents are:
One~ Opening Remarks
Two~ Talking History
Three~ Survey, Discovery, Risks, and Roles
Four~ Liebe und Arbeit(But, To Be Honest, Really Just The Rest Of Chapter 3)
Five~ FAQ's
Six~ After Words
Followed by: Highly Selective Bibliography and Acknowledgments

I love trivia and the Talking History section was so exciting to read, and I learned so much. There is an ongoing conversation throughout the book between Fred and Ginger that was very entertaining as well as informative. I was really so surprised at how funny this book was. I especially loved the sections about Chi, Boredom and Humor.

I would recommend this book to anyone who would like to learn about the art of conversation, or anyone who wants to read a very funny book.
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