Daniel Menaker

150 or 5,000?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Dear Mr. Menaker,

A pleasure to meet you at your book reading last night. I am finishing up Founding Brothers by Ellis, but I read part of your intro.

Two things so far have stood out. First one was the incident you mentioned about toeing the company line and not giving out a recommendation. Then going on to say it was a social-policing.  Those two words had an impact on me. Whether positive or negative time will tell.

The second one is where you wrote that Prof. Dunbar said the brain could only maintain 150 relationships at one time, yet Facebook has space for 5,000.  One of them has got to be mistaken.

Looking forward to reading your book.

Sincerely, Burton Hardy

Dear Burton,

Thanks for coming to the reading on Monday at the Half King. You were all a great audience. And yes, social policing, done through gossip, has a bright side and a darker one. Keeps us in line but sometimes also keeps us from empathy. Regarding the 5,000 Facebook friends: As far as real friends are concerned, I’ll stick with Professor Dunbar’s number–150. And even that is pushing it.

Thank you for writing.

Dan Menaker

“Ask Dan” was a public online Q&A series that ran on this site from 2010 to 2012.

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From the AARP book review:

Daniel Menaker began to fear for the future of conversation at his own dinner table: “Some friends were over and our talk was peppered with ’24/7,’ ‘pushing the envelope,’ and ‘at the end of the day,’ ” the 68-year-old New York editor recalls. “It made me a little insane to realize that business clichés had invaded my personal relationships.”

It also made him something of a dialogue doctor, intent on assessing the health and well-being of conversation in the land. His diagnosis, laid out in A Good Talk: The Story and Skill of Conversation, may hearten or deflate you—possibly both—but never again will you think of chat as a trivial affair. “We can enrich our lives by understanding the great rewards of good conversations,” Menaker says. “In finding out who the person we’re talking to is, we find out who we are.”

Intrigued by the book’s utopian premise—that “every time people talk together in a social and mutually gratifying way, the world becomes a better place”—I invited the author of A Good Talk to sit down for, well, a good talk.

Read the interview here.

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“Ask Dan” Brings Blast from the Past

Dear Dan,

I am former and I guess old neighbor from Piermont Av. in South Nyack. I was enjoying a cup of coffee in the lobby of a hotel last week reading a USA Today and the conversant headline caught my eye. Lord knows it never hurts to be more conversant. Your name jumped out at me. I am saying to myself, think I used to hang with this guy.  I was a lot younger than you, ha, maybe by 5 years, so by hanging with you I think you older cool guys let me play baseball with the big guys. It was not my skill level, you just needed a body.

I must say that there is something special about reading an article that all of a sudden brings me back 50 years. Wow the time went fast. It is nice to see you are doing very well and I will be buying your book. Maybe some day we will have a Piermiont Av. reunion and you will autograph it for me.

Chris Devins

Dear Chris,

I remember the Devinses well–you-all were such a nice family altogether, and there were, as I recall, so many of you.  It’s good to hear from you, and speaking of reunions, a bunch of guys from Nyack High ’59 get together  once a year or so up there–but they are older. You are a mere 63, or something like that.   After you left that house, another family moved in with quite a few kids, as I remember it, but in any case my family referred to them as “the false Devinses.” So, to the Menakers, you are famous as the real Devinses.

Thanks for writing in. Thanks for buying the book, if you do, and somehow I hope to get to sign it, if you’d like, and to say hello.  I hope you and yours are well and happy.

Dan Menaker

“Ask Dan” was a public online Q&A series that ran on this site from 2010 to 2012.

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The Scientist–(Conversational) Friend or Foe?

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Good piece the other day in The Washington Post about dinner-party conversation, by Sally Quinn.

The one thing I disagree with her about–mostly her observations and advice are spot on–is that scientists are often toxic in ordinary dinner conversations, especially when you get them together. Well, yes, maybe if they start talking to each other in equations or chemical reactions, but generally if they are accomplished in their fields they, unlike many of the rest of us, actually know something definite and important–often fascinating. And it has been my experience that they are eager to try to explain to laymen what they are up to–and in fact look forward to doing so. I once had a conversation with a Rockefeller University neurologist about what consciousness is–that most elusive of all human experiences–and what he told me about memory and the role of neurons in forming memories helped me a little toward a ghost of comprehension of, well, comprehension.

Not sure why Ms. Quinn has trouble with scientist types. Maybe she herself is just not that interested in the subject.

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Cover of Publishers Weekly

Monday, January 11, 2010

Publishers Weekly features A GOOD TALK on their cover this week; read the interview here.

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@ the WSJ Speakeasy

Monday, January 04, 2010

PULMONOLOGIST (discussing treatment for a growth found in my lung a year and a half ago): There are two surgeons I would recommend. They are both excellent. One does not have a great manner but he is brilliant. The other I would send my mother to.

ME: (Find out by clicking this link.)

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American Way

For those who don’t have plans to fly with American Airlines anytime soon (and who will thusly miss this issue of their handsome in-flight magazine); an interview.

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The Washington Post Weighs In

Sunday, January 03, 2010

From their January 3, 2010 review:

“Reading about conversation might seem paradoxical: a solitary take on a social activity. But Daniel Menaker’s A GOOD TALK evokes its subject by taking on a personal, conversational tone . . . His refreshingly honest anecdotes reveal the roles and risks we take in conversation . . . The most useful section may be Menaker’s discussion of FAQs (Frequently Arising Quandaries), such as how to survive exchanges with dull people (ask about their top 10 books, movies, etc. or about any personal grudges) and how to recover from causing inadvertent affronts (don’t over-apologize!). His comments on e-communication are spot-on.”

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