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.)
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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