Arts & Entertainment

'The Art of Conversation' by Catherine Blyth

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Text junkies know "gratz G2G TTYL" means, "Congratulations. Got to go. Talk to you later." While concise, the problem, according to London editor and writer Catherine Blyth, is that "so many exchanges are conducted via electronic go-betweens that . . . it is easy to overlook the super-responsive information technology that is live-action, up-close-and-personal, snap-crackle-pop talk -- one that has been in research and development for thousands of years."

Blyth proves her point in the 15 jam-packed chapters of "The Art of Conversation: A Guided Tour of a Neglected Pleasure" (Gotham Books: 290 pp., $22.50), which deconstruct its elements from small talk and pillow talk (Hint: It's not texting "ILY") to traversing the conversational terrain of the workplace or what best to say if you're caught in a verbal war (my favorite response to the arrogant, "Do you know who I am?" "I'd rather not").

Each chapter contains helpful rules -- the ones on using silence or navigating difficult conversations are particular revelations -- as well as anecdotes and quotes ranging from the orator who defended Helen of Troy to President George W. Bush speaking to freshman Sen. Barack Obama on the latter's first visit to the White House. There's also a clever compendium of 15 "bores, chores, and other conversational beasts" that will make your next foray into a bar or business reception much more entertaining.

While the book may overwhelm some readers by the sheer number of tips, rules, quips and tools or references to arcane English celebrities, on balance it will help both wallflowers and those lost in cyberspace achieve conversational connections Blyth likens to music: "Its harmony, rhythm, and flow transcend communication, flexing mind and heart, tuning us in for companionship."

Woods is a writer and frequent contributor to The Times' Books section.

book.review@latimes.com

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