Synopsis: Just as the title indicates, this work of nonfiction guides the reader through the art of making conversation. The main focus is on how to exchange pleasantries (small talk) with new acquaintances in various work or social situations without fear. The book gives advice on preparation, reading body language, introductions, acceptable conversational topics and phrasing, how to escape boring people politely, and more.
Author: Caroline Taggart worked in the publishing industry for over a decade before going into freelance editing for the next twenty years. More recently she began writing as ‘Her Ladyship’ with many of her works being of the self-help or informational variety on topics such as appropriate behaviour at various British-based events, correct speech and grammar, as well as travel and cooking.
Cover: Though I’m not very cognizant when it comes to nonfiction book covers, this one seems suitably appropriate for the topic. It can be difficult to depict something that cannot always be seen, but what better way to do so than with various quotation marks? At first I thought it a bit plain and boring, but the longer I looked at the cover the more I liked it.
Format: The book is separated into twelve sections, clearly displayed by a double-page bordered spread, fancy text, and a quote. Within those sections are numerous subheadings for the various topics that fall under each of those sections. There are textual callouts that have humorous anecdotes or example conversations to better illustrate the point being made, as well as pull-quotes of what Her Ladyship considered to be the most important thing to be learned.
Writing Style: While this book is supposedly informal, to a Canadian it is written in a rather formal style… sort of like a Jane Austen novel or how you would imagine a titled person may speak to an acquaintance. A few of the words/phrases and scenarios are very British, but not so much as to turn off someone of a different nationality. The sentence structure various from simple to complex, but wasn’t overly conductive to underlining complete sentences for those who wish to highlight specifics.
Point of View: The persona of this narrator is that of a knowledgeable, upper-class socialite. The subtle characterization leads one to imagine an older, but not elderly, lady who was perhaps born at the end of the polite era when ‘correct behaviour’ was still taught. Rather than being off-putting, this actually gives the reader a sense of confidence that if they follow the book’s advice they will not be led astray.
Unfulfilled Promise: There were a few headings that dealt with situations I find particularly stressful and had been looking forward to some insight on how to deal with them, but upon reaching those subsections I discovered they were no more than a paragraph or two of generalities. Needless to say it was a bit disappointing.
Quote: …it’s surprising how easy—and how pleasant—it is to exchange pleasantries.
The Verdict: I picked up this book on a whim, as I find conversing with strangers in social situations rather difficult. While reading, I found myself analyzing my part in past conversations and thinking about how I could do better in the future. Having now finished this book, I think I will be a bit more confident in sharing pleasantries, paying attention to conversational clues, and actually listening rather than waiting my turn to talk. To my surprise, I actually would recommend this book to anyone who feels a bit awkward in social situations.