Slate's handy guide to small talk.

Slate's handy guide to small talk.

Slate's handy guide to small talk.

Arts, entertainment, and more.
Aug. 18 2006 3:59 PM

Weekend Cocktail Chatter

Slate's handy guide to small talk.

Slate offers a quick and easy guide to help you fake your way through overly cultured cocktail parties this weekend.

The Longlist for the 2006 Booker Prize was announced this week, and already literary circles have dusted off their brackets and started the annual betting pool. Of course, there are the familiar names—Peter Carey, Kiran Desai, Nadine Gordimer, Claire Messud, and David Mitchell, to name a few. The Booker bookies are favoring Mitchell, but our money's on Sarah Waters' The Night Watch. Adjust your bracket accordingly.

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Now that book trailers are all the rage, John Hodgman is getting in on the act with an amusing ad for the paperback edition of The Areas of My Expertise. Perhaps he's trying to compensate for that remarkably unfunny Mac ad?

Partygoers will likely be discussing the recent revelations that German author Günter Grass was a member of the Waffen-SS during World War II. Some may agree with John Irving, who says Grass is still a "hero" to him, and Salman Rushdie, who said the outrage over the Grass revelations was "a little manufactured." Not under debate: sales of Grass' memoir, which was released in Germany two weeks ahead of schedule and is already a best seller.

If your guests are feeling expressive, you could stage a reading of Ted Hughes' previously unpublished love poems, which he scribbled in a schoolgirl's notebook more than 50 years ago: "Orion may cry but never follow after/ Far away where, wanderer by wanderer/ The moon lies down with the west water." Orion, indeed. In any case, let it be said that British schoolgirls are not known for their sentimentality; this one sold the poems to Emory University for a cool 2,000 quid.

Raise an eyebrow, and perhaps a glass, to the surprisingly good reviews coming in for Snakes on a Plane, though most people at your gathering will probably be off to see Factotum this weekend instead. You might want to unearth your copy of Ham on Rye for display in the meantime.