How To Be Killer At Cocktail Parties Awkward over hors d'oeuvres? A mess with martinis? Knowing what to say at a cocktail party can be overwhelming — but these three books will have you culturally informed in no time.


How To Be Killer At Cocktail Parties

How To Be Killer At Cocktail Parties

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Firoozeh Dumas is the author of Funny in Farsi and Laughing Without an Accent. She is fabulous at cocktail parties. hide caption

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My husband's idea of hell is a cocktail party. Having to impress total strangers in under three minutes with just the right banter is enough to make him stay home.

As an engineer, he never mastered the art of shallow conversation, which I — a humanities major — specialized in. It's just a matter of knowing a little bit about a few relevant topics and having a good fake laugh. I can't help you with the latter, but all you need are these three books, and you will look bright and suave all the time, regardless of the topic.

'The Man Who Was Thursday'

G. K. Chesterton's 'The Man Who Was Thursday'
The Man Who Was Thursday, by G.K. Chesterton, paperback, 224 pages

Just saying this author's name — G.K. Chesterton — will make you look debonair, like someone who knows his way around a silk ascot.

Chesterton's best-known novel, The Man Who Was Thursday, is a metaphysical thriller full of quotable lines sure to make you look mighty witty. A lull in the conversation? Just throw in this line, which will fit any topic from politics to religion: "Thieves respect property. They merely wish the property to become their property so that they may more perfectly respect it." You need not say anything else the entire evening.

'The Adventures Of Tintin'

Herge's 'Tintin: The Complete Companion'
Tintin: The Complete Companion, by Herge, hardcover, 200 pages

But assuming your soiree demands more of you than just a quote from early 20th century Britain, you can always rely on the Tintin series by Herge. My cousin Amin's biggest regret after escaping the Iranian revolution was leaving behind this collection translated in Persian.

Tintin is a series of 24 graphic novels about a young globe-trotting reporter, but be forewarned: The early books about the Congo and America are very politically incorrect, reflecting the Belgian colonial zeitgeist. Written for adults but popular for all ages, these books span the globe touching geopolitical conflicts and historic events such as the Japanese invasion of China, the rise of right-wing dictatorships in South America and the Cold War, all from a European perspective. Even if you've never left Kansas but want to sound like you know your Russian from your Prussian, this all-you-can-learn cultural buffet of a collection is for you.

'New Tales Of Nasrudin'

'Tales of Nasrudin'
New Tales of Nasrudin, by Mullah Nasrudin, translated by Eric K. Sorensen, paperback, 120 pages

But let's face it: It's not a party till someone starts talking about Islam. So what happens when you can't remember the difference between Sunni and Shiite? That's when you bring up everyone's favorite Mullah, Nasrudin, star of the New Tales of Nasrudin. That's right folks: a funny mullah.

Mullah Nasrudin is a satirical Sufi who lived around the 13th century. He is a beloved figure in many cultures in the Middle East, all of whom claim him as their own. Mullah Nasrudin is a wise fool, a simple man who manages to outwit everyone, similar to the Jewish character of Hershel of Ostropol.

Bringing up Mullah Nasrudin will not only make you look like a continental wit, but also a bridge builder, someone who sees humor across cultures who can't agree on much else. And these days, anytime you can turn a shindig into an opportunity to make a bridge, especially when talking about politics or Islam, well, I'll drink to that.

Three Books ... is produced and edited by Ellen Silva and Bridget Bentz.

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