Skip To Content
JEWISH. INDEPENDENT. NONPROFIT.
Israel News

Life on the Kibitz

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.

A message from our editor-in-chief Jodi Rudoren

We're building on 127 years of independent journalism to help you develop deeper connections to what it means to be Jewish today.

With so much at stake for the Jewish people right now — war, rising antisemitism, a high-stakes U.S. presidential election — American Jews depend on the Forward's perspective, integrity and courage.

—  Jodi Rudoren, Editor-in-Chief 

Join our mission to tell the Jewish story fully and fairly.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.