Sparkling Vintage Fiction. Among other things.

Charm School: Something to Talk About

Hello, Sparklers, and welcome to today’s Charm School lesson, which is #2 in a series on how to be a sparkling conversationalist.

Recently in Charm School we discussed vocal quality, or “how you say it.” Today we’re talking about the content. or “what you say.” Turning again to that paragon of charm, Margery Wilson, we read:

“Every woman should read a magazine of news such as Time or Newsweek {For today’s readers, here I would also interject World magazine and The Week, two of my personal favorite news sources, as well as, of course, the Internet.–JLL}. She should read an amusing magazine such as The New Yorker. Then if she will read the book reviews in a good national newspaper every week, she should have plenty of conversational material that is up-to-date. Scandal sheets and thrillers will never add much to her. They only kill time.  . . . In addition to these one should read a local paper every day.

“A background of the classics gives a mellow, interesting point of view. If you have not read the classics, start right in on Doctor Eliot’s five-foot bookshelf. {Note: Here she’s referring to the Harvard Classics, edited by Dr. Charles Eliot. Another option for reading the classics is the Great Books of the Western World series, still widely available at libraries and online. An interesting discussion of the two series can be found here.–JLL}.

“To take facts and make them smooth out introductions and conversational openings is the task of every hostess, such as the following introduction of old friends to a newcomer:

“‘Mrs. Brown, this is Mrs. Traveler. The Travelers used to be neighbors of ours and the only time we disagreed was about the hedge.'” Mrs. Traveler can then say, ‘We’ve had plenty of time to regret it. If we could be back here beside you, you could put the hedge on the front porch.’ Now, can these people talk? If they can’t they have no tongues. They have eight subjects to discuss: neighbors, new and old; property lines; hedges, front porches; tempers; temperaments; homesickness; and forgiveness. All this is possible because the hostess introduced a natural and almost universal subject between neighbors.'”

A few more helpful hints from Miss Wilson:

“Talk about the weather. Never be afraid to talk about the weather. It is not inane. It is an always interesting subject because it is always with us and we must consider it.

Talk about food. The only danger here is that a compliment may clumsily imply that it is unusual to have good food at this house.

Tell an amusing story. It is a good plan to remember an amusing story to tell if the opportunity presents itself. A good story goes with a crowd of any age. If you can’t remember stories, then cut one out of a paper and read it.

You may talk about yourself–a little. There are times when you may break the rule, ‘Never talk about yourself.’ If a guest has gotten into a long rigamarole about herself and really would like to stop, but doesn’t know how, it is kind to take the conversation to yourself briefly before switching to generalities.”

Getting someone to talk about themselves is a whole topic in itself, so we will save it for next time we meet up in Charm School. Until then, Happy Sparkling!

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