Catherine Blyth is a writer and editor whose work has appeared in numerous British publications including The Times and The Daily Telegraph. In this immensely creative and wide-ranging work of cultural criticism, she presents a witty and convincing defense of the art of conversation. This delightful book is peppered with her own observations along with quips and quotations from philosophers, anthropologists, literary figures, and cultural commentators. Blyth alludes in the introduction to several different dimensions of conversation:
"It is the spontaneous business of making connections, whether for work, friendship, or pure, fleeting pleasure . . ."
"More than words, conversation is music: Its harmony, rhythm and flow transcend communication, flexing mind and heart, tuning us for companionship . . ."
"We need artful conversation. Cooperation is its operative principle, enthusiasm its divine breath, and its power to raise spirits is supernatural."
Blyth points out that conversation has been edged off center stage by the omnipresence of our technological toys and by the fact that many people seem to treat it as "a couture form of communication." Our toys give us the illusion that we are more in touch with others but they also keep us apart from those who are right in front of us in the present moment. Blyth also laments the rise of rudeness when people shut down and conversation is stifled.
With great élan and erudition, Blyth covers the following subjects:
• Small talk
• The acrobatics of attention
• Fit subjects
• Steering controls
• Dealing with boredom
• Humor as social engineering
• The detection of untruths
• Pillow talk
• The fine art of flattery
• Shop talk
• On navigating difficult conversation
• How to wage a word war
• Stitching conversation into your life.
We were especially impressed with her insights into the connections that are sparked by the simple practice of greetings; the value of small talk as a path to intimacy in a complicated world; a clever typology of bores, chores, and other conversational beasts; the dynamism and social worth of listening; silence as a window of opportunity; on why closed minds are bored minds; humor as a barrier breaker; artful and playful communication between lovers; and much more.
Blyth ends with 10 suggestions for drawing the art of conversation back into our lives and then delivers a five-point "Conversation Survival Kit." This guided tour of a neglected pleasure is a tour de force work that brims over with insights and practices to deepen and enhance our humanity in our communication fixated culture.