Wednesday, April 4, 2007

The Art of Civilized Conversation

The Art of Civilized Conversation: A Guide to Expressing Yourself With Style and Grace by Margaret Shepherd was given to me by my sister for my birthday. I wonder if she was trying to tell me something. Whether it was a subtle hint, or not, the advice given in this book is both common sense and insightful. I found it helpful in articulating the particulars of conversation. Some of the advice is obvious but even then serves as a reminder, especially for the shy or introverted among us. (Ahem, that would be me.)

This book includes 'The People You Meet' such as 'The Empty Phraser,' 'The School Marm,' and the 'Shrinking Violet.' It lists the 'Ten Rules of Conversation.' (Rule 9. Don't Be a Bore.) The Art of Civilized Conversation starts with the basic fundamentals of every conversation, giving advice on how to use your voice, face, and body. The author has examples of what to say (and not to say) under different circumstances and occasions. A bridal shower, cocktail party, elevator, and a funeral each call for different conversation skills.

My favorite section of the book was the advice for turning cliches and desperate small talk into sparking conversation. I often find small talk tedious and stressful. My sister and I recently collected a long list of great conversation questions, but I find it hard to segue. The author has great examples of how to begin a dialogue.

  • "How's the family?" plus "Long time no see" equals: "I wonder what music (or ideas, sports, or technology) your kids are into now that they are teenagers. I feel like I'm one lap behind here."

  • "Gee, you've grown" plus "Still reading all those comic books?" equals: "I haven't seen you for two years. You must have grown into some new interests that I need to catch up on."

  • Desperate: "Would you look at all of this food! I'm going to go off my diet." Sparkling: My grandmother used to make baklava just like this. Do you do much cooking?"

  • Desperate: "Nice weather!" Sparking: "All this sun for January! If you close your eyes it feels like Miami, not Buffalo!/Have you gotten out to enjoy this nice weather?/Do you enjoy the winters here, or would you prefer to be somewhere else?"

I appreciated the many and varied literary references scattered throughout the book. The author quotes C. S. Lewis, Lewis Carroll, Confucius, Cicero, Graham Greene, and others, as well as movie dialogue and song lyrics.

The Art of Civilized Conversation is a terrific resource for learning new techniques, polishing existing conversation skills, and increasing confidence in social settings.

Only Connect

Regardless of the form in which it is conveyed, the art of conversation helps you touch the people in your life. With the right words, you can clarify your own thoughts, express who you are, celebrate small everyday victories, strengthen your relationships, and knit together the community around you. No matter who you are or where you are, every time you talk you have the chance to transform ordinary words into something exceptional. Civilized conversation, like all art, connects you to the best in other people and in yourself. --Margaret Shepherd


In keeping with the spirit of civilized conversation, Jennifer at Snapshot has kindly offered to send a few interesting questions my direction. This is a pass-it-on sort of deal. If anyone would like to play along, I would be delighted to send you a handful of original questions. (Just leave a comment below to enter into this conversation.)

1. Which of your childhood favorite books could you not wait to share with your children? I had a dream when I was pregnant with my firstborn. We didn't know whether we were having a boy or a girl, and in this dream I gave birth to a boy. For some strange reason, my first thought was "What on earth will I read to him? I only know girl books!" With two sisters, our bookshelves were filled with Anne of Green Gables, The Secret Garden, The Little Princess, Understood Betsy, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, Jane Eyre, and Maggie Rose: Her Birthday Christmas. It was a wonderful discovery that I could think on my toes, even in a dream. Suddenly I thought of Treasure Island, Swiss Family Robinson, The Great Brain, I Am David, and House of Sixty Fathers. Since that dream, I've given birth to three boys, and our book shelves are filled with a fun collection of books from my childhood and also books I will enjoy discovering for the first time with my boys.

Probably the most enjoyable book (or series) I've shared with Levi would be the Narnia series. We have enjoyed sharing that mental landscape. Just the other day, Levi was standing in a bush about his size, swaying back and forth with a serene smile on his face. "I'm a dryad, Mom!" Lately, we have been enjoying Pippi Longstocking. My mother read it aloud to my sisters and me, so it is fun snuggling on the couch, laughing together. I look forward to many more years of reading aloud to all the boys. When Levi is much older, I look forward to sharing The Count of Monte Cristo, which is in my top ten enjoyable novels of all time.

2. How are your children most different from you? Living with Levi has made me think about this from day one. It would be easier to list the one (maybe two) personality traits we have in common instead of the 3 million ways in which we are different. He lives life in a big way, thinks outside of the box, can hold a conversation with anyone (or anything), is chaotic, never sits still, and wants to be going--constantly. He is a blast! Many a personality style book sits on my shelf. I want to be able to understand him without having to stuff him in my little box. I think Luke and I may be closer in personality, although he still received his extrovert status from his father. Leif hasn't developed a full personality quite yet. I enjoy imagining what he might be like in a few years.

3. Which movie really makes you laugh? Maverick with Mel Gibson and True Lies with Arnold Schwarzenegger are two movies that make me laugh like crazy. I wish I could come up with a high-brow answer, but there you have it.

4. What do you think of the rain? I have lived my whole life in the Willamette Valley, Oregon. If the rain was a problem, I'd be in trouble! I love the green fields. I enjoy having a beautiful garden. Rain makes both possible. Running errands with a five year old, 2 year old, and infant in the pouring rain...not so fun.

5. If you could get a professional room makeover, which room would you choose and why? Interior design is one of my favorite hobbies. Our new home has afforded me with a fresh slate to decorate. The room I could probably use the most help with at this point is the kitchen. Is the budget for the makeover included? I would love professional quality appliances and custom cabinets! At this point, however, the only thing we have to replace is the floor. It's a mess. A kitchen makeover often soaks up a large amount of money, and there is a lot of measuring to do. I'd want it done right the first time.

Thanks, Jennifer!


Unknown said...

Wow--I love that book review. In fact, I've been pondering small talk lately. This sounds really great. Have you ever seen Semicolon's Saturday Review of Books? You can link up each Saturday any book review from the week (

As for the interview--very interesting! I saw your reference to OMSI, so that's why I asked about the rain. My eldest daughter was born in Portland. We lived there (and loved it) for 3 years. Humor isn't supposed to be highbrow, so good job there, too.

Heidi said...

Hi, Jennifer! I appreciated you sending the questions. They were fun to answer.

We live south of Portland, but I love this area. It is nice to have access to all of the things available there!

I was thinking about linking the review at Semicolon's blog. I'll have to make a note so I can remember, LOL.

Anonymous said...

Hello! I came over from Jennifer's to read your interview. I loved your book dream. I, too, have been discovering books for boys! I just read the My Father's Dragon trilogy with my five year old son and he loved them. However, he enjoys some of my childhood favorites as well (Ramona). Fun interview!

Heidi said...

Thanks, Lauren. I'm glad you came to visit.

Levi and I read My Father's Dragon and enjoyed it. We need to try the rest of the trilogy. I'm sure he would *love* Ramona. I'll have to pull that one out, too. :)

Heidi said...

Thanks for stopping by, Sherry!

I often talk too much (when I'm comfortable) or not at all (when I'm uncomfortable), and I felt like this book helped me think specifically about what I can do to improve my skills. Give it a try!

DebD said...

I've come over from Seasonal Soundings Reading Challenge to read your spring Wrap up.

This sounds like a very interesting book and something I could really get into. I'll have to look this one up on Amazon.

btw, I'm also currently reading a Elizabeth Gaskell book (Mary Barton). I'm enjoying quite a lot.