A thin broth containing a few chunky morsels.

A GOOD TALK

THE STORY AND SKILL OF CONVERSATION

A former book editor and New Yorker staffer weighs in on the history, strategies and significance of conversation, “a human art of great importance produced by all people everywhere.”

Menaker (The Treatment, 1998, etc.), has a busy agenda: to sketch the history of human spoken intercourse, which “had to begin with grunts”; summarize some key theories about the nature of talk; analyze an edited, though lengthy, version of a recording of an actual conversation he shared with a colleague (she knew the recorder was running); examine conversation-starters and -stoppers; and offer some Dr. Philian how-to-do-it banalities. Menaker’s wit is evident throughout, and the tone is generally amiable, even avuncular—and yes, conversational. He employs self-deprecation appealingly, and his allusions leap around unpredictably, visiting both high and low culture along the way. Accordingly, the author glances at Beethoven, Randy Travis, Aristotle, William Shawn, Buddy Holly, Grendel, Linda Blair, Gary Cooper and Max von Sydow, among dozens of others. Menaker has little ill to say of anyone, though he takes a poke at Alan Cheuse and at some unnamed people who once said something inappropriate in conversation with him. Of greatest interest are some early comments about the evolution of conversation and some observations at the end about oxytocin, the “cuddle hormone” that apparently bubbles away nicely during and after a good chat. Less appealing are the author’s self-help prescriptions—lists of dos and don’ts and anecdotes about people who did X and Y ensued. Some of the sections seem more fitting for an in-flight magazine than for a serious discussion of…discussion.

A thin broth containing a few chunky morsels.

Pub Date: Jan. 4, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-446-54002-5

Page Count: 230

Publisher: Twelve

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2009

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Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...

THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE

50TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION

Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.

Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").

Pub Date: May 15, 1972

ISBN: 0205632645

Page Count: 105

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1972

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DEAR MR. HENSHAW

Possibly inspired by the letters Cleary has received as a children's author, this begins with second-grader Leigh Botts' misspelled fan letter to Mr. Henshaw, whose fictitious book itself derives from the old take-off title Forty Ways W. Amuse a Dog. Soon Leigh is in sixth grade and bombarding his still-favorite author with a list of questions to be answered and returned by "next Friday," the day his author report is due. Leigh is disgruntled when Mr. Henshaw's answer comes late, and accompanied by a set of questions for Leigh to answer. He threatens not to, but as "Mom keeps nagging me about your dumb old questions" he finally gets the job done—and through his answers Mr. Henshaw and readers learn that Leigh considers himself "the mediumest boy in school," that his parents have split up, and that he dreams of his truck-driver dad driving him to school "hauling a forty-foot reefer, which would make his outfit add up to eighteen wheels altogether. . . . I guess I wouldn't seem so medium then." Soon Mr. Henshaw recommends keeping a diary (at least partly to get Leigh off his own back) and so the real letters to Mr. Henshaw taper off, with "pretend," unmailed letters (the diary) taking over. . . until Leigh can write "I don't have to pretend to write to Mr. Henshaw anymore. I have learned to say what I think on a piece of paper." Meanwhile Mr. Henshaw offers writing tips, and Leigh, struggling with a story for a school contest, concludes "I think you're right. Maybe I am not ready to write a story." Instead he writes a "true story" about a truck haul with his father in Leigh's real past, and this wins praise from "a real live author" Leigh meets through the school program. Mr. Henshaw has also advised that "a character in a story should solve a problem or change in some way," a standard juvenile-fiction dictum which Cleary herself applies modestly by having Leigh solve his disappearing lunch problem with a burglar-alarmed lunch box—and, more seriously, come to recognize and accept that his father can't be counted on. All of this, in Leigh's simple words, is capably and unobtrusively structured as well as valid and realistic. From the writing tips to the divorced-kid blues, however, it tends to substitute prevailing wisdom for the little jolts of recognition that made the Ramona books so rewarding.

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 1983

ISBN: 143511096X

Page Count: 133

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1983

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