The Art of Conversation: A Guided Tour of a Neglected Pleasure by Catherine Blyth
A wide-ranging, exhortatory look at the pleasures of great conversation, including strategies for how to bring it about, from the witty pen of an Englishwoman wise in its ways
In The Art of Conversation, Catherine Blyth eloquently points out the sorry state of disrepair that conversation has fallen intoâ€”and then, taking examples from history, literature, philosophy, anthropology, and popular culture, she gives us the tools to rebuild. Her prose embodies the conversational values she promotes: It’s smart, succinct, self-deprecating, and light on its feet.
The Art of Conversation isn’t about etiquette, elocution, or knowing how to hold your teacup with your little finger crooked just so. It’s about something simple and profound: connecting. In our distracted days, it’s easy to forget that each of us possesses a communication technology that has been in research and development for thousands of years. Conversation costs nothing, but can bring you the world.
Blyth offers us a chance to revel in the possibilities of conversation. As Alexander Pope nearly wrote, “True ease in talking comes from art, not chance, as those move easiest who have learned to dance.” Okay, Pope was actually talking about writing, but Catherine Blyth has that skill as well. When you have read The Art of Conversation, you’ll not only know the steps, but hear the music like never before.
The Art of Conversation
John Armstrong does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment. Conversation is civilized speech. It is more purposeful than chatter; more humane than gossip; more intimate than debate. But it is an elusive ideal. In our verbal exchanges we often flip from one topic to another — while conversation suggests something more sustained, more substantial. A conversation is the encounter of two polished minds: tactful enough to listen, confident enough to express their true beliefs; subtle enough to search out the reasons behind the thoughts.
1. Break the ice.
Ben Altman. But as time ticks on, you sense they want to speak less and less. After a few minutes, they excuse themselves to mingle with others. What the heck happened? Sure, people like to talk about themselves—but not with everyone. People only want to talk about themselves with people they have some reason to care about. So what should I do to have a good conversation if not ask questions?