You: Pretty good, thanks. You?
Me: I’m good. I’ve gotten a new IPad, and it’s great fun. I’m staying up too late. It’s got this great “Words With Friends” game that I’m hooked on. And I’m enjoying the flexibility of it.
You: You’ll be reading books on the Kindle app soon, you know that, right?
Me: I don’t know. I downloaded it. And I like the feel of reading magazine articles on there. I still like the book. I like that other people can see what I’m reading and I like the smell of the book. A book is timeless—the Kindle will be obsolete in years and all of the books you buy will one day be erased when the technology crashes, as it always does.
You: You sound old.
Me: Yes. I know. So I think I might try a fiction book of some sort. Something like a Grisham, that I don’t care if I own or not.
You: That’s a good thought. So, what have you been reading?
Me: A couple of things. Book Club this month is “A Walk in the Woods,” by Bill Bryson. I finished “Joe DiMaggio,” by Richard Ben Cramer, and it was brilliant. I’ll write about it soon. And I just started “The Savage City,” which will likely disprove something I wrote in a post about New York last month. But this weekend, I finished “A Good Talk, The Story and Skill of Conversation” by Daniel Menaker.
You: What was it about?
Me: The title didn’t answer that question?
You: Smartass. I was being polite and trying to advance this conversation.
Me: Yes, I know. But Menaker says that curiosity, humor and impudence are helpful for a successful conversation. I thought I’d get impudence out of the way early.
You: Interesting. Though impudence seems like it could be a conversation stopper, not a starter.
Me: Yes, I thought that too. Menaker makes a good case for a fair amount of mischievousness in conversation. He says, “You really have to have nerve and the confidence of that nerve to be really good in conversation.” That’s true. Going down these “blind alleys” are risky, but can carry great reward.
You: Sounds like you liked this book?
Me: I guess. I mean, it’s a short read. About 200 pages. Menaker is a damn good writer and he’s funny at points. He’s also very New York-centric.
You: What do you mean?
Me: He has that New York worldview where I get the sense he might spell Cincinnati with two “t’s.” And his qualifications as a conversationalist seem to be that he worked for the New Yorker and thus met interesting people and presumably had a few good conversations with said people.
You: Why do you hate New Yorkers?
Me: Sheer envy.
You: At least you are honest.
Me: Another hallmark of a good conversation. Menaker identifies four key parts of a conversation—Survey, Discovery, Risk and Roles. Most have obvious explanations, but I like his framework. Risk is the best part, I think.
Me: Huh? Oh, sorry, I was looking at my phone.
You: I see. That’s rude.
Me: I know. I have a problem. Menaker discusses how electronic communications are killing good conversations too. He’s not wrong, but I think younger people have different tolerance for it. Multi-tasking. When I’m in D.C., it’s more than typical, it’s accepted behavior.
You: It shouldn’t be.
Me: You’re probably right. I’ve tried to cut back when I’m not working or when I’m having a conversation. I see that it can be viewed as rude.
You: Huh? Oh, sorry, I’m texting my friend.
You: You think the art of conversation is dying?
Me: No. I think that it changes over time, especially as we get older. Menaker makes some good points about this, too. He says, “The springtime of adult life is the season not only for bold differences of opinion, but also for the marathon conversations they so often occasion. Courtship produces marathons.” He’s making the point that when we are young, these long conversations are what end up defining who we are. He goes on: “And then, frequently, work and family and all those responsibilities settle in, and the all-night or all-day or all-weekend conversations recede into the past, as they probably must and even should, since most of the formation of character that they assist so crucially has taken place.”
You: I miss those college conversations. They were the best.
Me: Yes, I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately. See my last post.
You: I did. Menaker makes a good point, though. Those conversations are appropriate for that point in our life. The conversations we have today, though very different, are still special. For instance, you and I don’t talk as much or as long as we did many years ago. But today’s conversations are in kind of a shorthand—we know each other so well and the exploration phase is over. But we’d be lost in this world if we no longer conversed with each other at all.
Me: That’s true.
You: You know what else? Think about our best conversations over the years.
Me: What about them?
You: You never looked at your blackberry.
Me: You’re right. Point made. Also, score one for impudence.
You: Did you hear about you-know-who’s new car?
Me: Funny you should mention that. Menaker cites a statistic that says 80% of our talk is about specific and named individuals. Or, gossip.
You: Probably true. This book sounds great.
Me: Like I said, I had mixed reactions. I think it was good, but it didn’t knock my socks off. I could have used a little more knowledge and a little less opinion. But it was very strong writing. And thought-provoking. He reprinted an entire conversation he had with another author (also from New York, I know you are shocked), and then used it to analyze the different parts of a conversation.
You: Sounds like an useful device for this book. Also sounds somewhat familiar, though I’m not sure why…
Me: Ha. Yes, shameless robbery on my part. But this is an invented conversation, and not an actual one, like in Menaker’s book.
You: I’m not real?
Me: Well, you sort of are an amalgam of my friends, colleagues, and family.
You: That’s nice. But, I admit, this has been a nice chat. “A Good Talk,” even.
Me: Thanks. I thought so. You know one other thing Menaker says?
You: What’s that?
Me: He says that women and men say goodbye differently. Men end a conversation quickly. Women prolong the conversation.
Me: Probably. But here’s his line about it, which I liked. “Women take longer to say good-bye than men do, and to see the certainty I have on this subject, however anecdotal that certainty may be, say out loud the name of the punctuation mark at the end of this sentence.”
You: Great sentence. Stupid point.
You: Well, on that note. I have to run.
Me: Didn’t we just say goodbye?
You: Yes, but…
Me: I guess Menaker was right. Thanks for reading.