Life on the Kibitz

By Edmon J. Rodman

Published January 20, 2010, issue of January 29, 2010.
  • Print
  • Share Share

A book about talking should seem as natural as moving your jaw, especially for a Jewish audience: people who love to comment, question and, yes, complain. Daniel Menaker’s new book, “A Good Talk — The story and Skill of Conversation” (Twelve, 2010, $20), a nicely framed approach to the art of conversation utilizing digression, humor, even impudence, is a useful kibitz on this almost proprietary Jewish subject.

Many of us, for example, become tongue-tied and brain-knotted when it comes time to initiate conversations. One way to begin, Menaker advises, is by giving compliments. Saying “ ‘What a wonderful tie!’ is fine,” he writes. “As long as a) the other person is wearing a tie, and b) it is by our standards indeed wonderful.”

He also advises how to deal with “deadly nightshade,” people who talk too much. (Many of his examples are from his 20 years as an editor at the New Yorker.) As a remedy, he suggests changing the subject, by initiating a Top 10 list — “Top 10 movies. Top 10 foods.” Most of us in the same situation are probably thinking, “Top 10 ways to disappear.”

Clearly a man who enjoys his face-to-face time (a transcribed conversation is a key talking point of the book), Menaker defines the best conversations as having an aimless undirected quality. Last Passover, he would have liked my Seder.

“Some good conversations linger,” says Menaker.

For many Americans, certain conversational topics remain taboo: religion, sex, politics, the amount of tread remaining on your tires. Though Menaker says that “most ordinary people agree that religion has a conversational cordon around it,” he also adds, “Far better would be to admit religion into the open areas of conversation.” Many readers, I think, would say, “l’chaim,” to that.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • “I don’t want to say, ‘Oh oh, I’m not Jewish,’ because when you say that, you sound like someone trying to get into a 1950s country club, “and I love the idea of being Jewish." Are you a fan of Seth Meyers?
  • "If you want my advice: more Palestinians, more checkpoints, just more reality." What do you think?
  • Happy birthday Barbra Streisand! Our favorite Funny Girl turns 72 today.
  • Clueless parenting advice from the star of "Clueless."
  • Why won't the city give an answer?
  • BREAKING NEWS: Israel has officially suspended peace talks with the Palestinians.
  • Can you guess what the most boring job in the army is?
  • What the foolish rabbi of Chelm teaches us about Israel and the Palestinian unity deal:
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover! http://jd.fo/f3Mms
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.