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What are you yapping about?

January 10, 2009 | 10:00 am

Bigmouth In Sunday's books coverage, Paula Woods writes about Catherine Blyth's "The Art of Conversation: A Guided Tour of a Neglected Pleasure." Has this social art been forgotten? Apparently so, according to Blyth. Woods mentions how, among other things, the author includes an amusing typology of various "bores, "chores and other conversational beasts" to be duly avoided or escaped at all costs.

In case you ever wondered whether those unbearable talkers torturing you at parties could be categorized, just consider some of Blyth's descriptions of such party crashers:

Limpet: "Limpet tries to blend in. He shows no sign of life. It isn't clear who invited him, or why."

Demolition Ball: "Demolition Ball will let you get a word in edgeways. But don't mistake these interludes for him listening. In the lags between tirades, you can almost hear the groan of mental machinery as he swings back, preparing for the next attack."

The Grand Inquisitor: "You may imagine you have embarked on a light chat. To the Grand Inquisitor, this is contact sport.... No topic is too sensitive to be aired, shared and shredded."

Can You Believe It?: "Few companions are as wearing. Coercive little phrases -- 'Wasn't that incredible?' -- reach out from her flat-as-yesterday's-lemonade recitals, pulling her audience by the ear, demanding that they (a) show amazement and (b) wake up."

The Insinuator: "This person is ... often a nimble youngest child, schooled in sowing discord, using elder siblings as Trojan horses for advancing his own agendas."

And so it goes. Blyth's typology also includes the Creep, the Apologist, the Universal Expert and many more. Though her style is light and chatty, the points she make actually seem helpful -- or at least consoling -- to anyone who has encountered these types at a social gathering. To stop the flow of self-criticism that is the Apologist's signature, for example, "shut down the apology airspace and set her free," Blyth writes. "If she starts, laugh and change topic." 

This quirky little book about an aspect of social behavior has the same light tone as another about poor grammar, the sleeper bestseller "Eats, Shoots and Leaves" by Lynne Truss. Both, it turns out, are published in America by Gotham Books.

-- Nick Owchar

Photo credit: Pete Thomas / Los Angeles Times