Tag Archives: talking

Book: The Art of Civilized Conversation

This book is a gem. It's small, sweet and feels more like a bar of chocolate than a "self-help" book. Read this with a small, sweet tea, like Fenghuang Dancong (凤凰单枞) in tiny cups.

A sweet book. Persuasion to be polite, or just self-affirming reminder of common sense.
226 pages, ★★★★★

This book’s sleeve is made from textured paper (rather than coated paper), which makes touching it for the first time feel like opening a slab of chocolate. Inside the book, the fonts change playfully every few paragraphs, giving you the impression that by reading it, you’re mingling at a cocktail party. Despite the playful editing, the underlying narrative remains remarkably intact: the cocktail party that is The Art of Civilized Conversation certainly has a theme.

Most of this book is “what not to say” rather than “what to say”. It tells us repeatedly that keeping etiquette is most easily achieved by remaining silent (and not by using either nonsense or something offensive to fill all conversational gaps). This book reminds us not to get angry when talking to bigots. It reminds us to be patient when talking to drunks and deaf people. By not lecturing the reader, the author treats us with utmost respect. I wish I could express myself as politely and as delicately as she does.

The Art of Civilized Conversation leaves me with two homework assignments. First, I’ll react appropriately to other people’s conversational slip-ups. This book demonstrated that the conceited individuals one meets at (Oxford and Cambridge) dinner parties in fact know no more about the rules of etiquette than I do. When those obnoxious social ladder-climbers offend me in person next time, I shall respond more appropriately with lines from this book. Second, I’ll be looking out for stereotypes. The Art of Civilized Conversation introduced several types of poor conversationalists (the Schoolteacher, the Complainer, the Bore, and many more). Not only will I be hunting them down, but I’ll be trying to avoid becoming one as well.

Interestingly, this book contradicts the “brag pompously and name-drop like confetti” thesis of How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read 

Interestingly, this book contradicts the “brag pompously and name-drop like confetti” thesis of How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read (click for my review). How To Talk was written in pompous language that made me uncomfortable; and it broke all the rules of The Art of Civilized Conversation. Should I ever encounter a How To Talk snob, I’ll flatten them with this book, while breaking no rules of etiquette myself. At least, that’s the theory.

This is not a self-help book. It’s more of a sweet, pleasant reminder to be aware of one’s own actions. The hardback edition is a pleasure to hold, a pleasure to read, and will provide me with the ability to amuse myself ad infintum at the next bigot-filled garden party I choose to attend. Recommended for everyone. ★★★★★