MELISSA BLOCK, host:
We're entering that time of year when holiday party invitations start cluttering up mailboxes and inboxes. Look ahead a few weeks, and there you are, attending one of those soirees, and you're tongue-tied and bored. Firoozeh Dumas is the author of "Funny in Farsi," and she's here to help. As part or our series Three Books, here are her secrets for how to snazz up small talk.
Ms. FIROOZEH DUMAS (Author): My husband's idea of hell is a cocktail party. As an engineer, he never mastered the art of shallow conversation, which I, as a liberal arts 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 laugh, 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." Just saying this author's name, G.K. Chesterton, will make you look debonair, like someone who knows his way around a silk ascot. His best-known novel, "The Man Who Was Thursday," is a metaphysical thriller full of quotable lines sure to make you look mighty witty.
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 his beloved collection translated in Persian. Tintin is a series of 24 graphic novels about a young globe-trotting reporter. 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 written from a European perspective. Even if you don't own a passport 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.
But let's face it. It's not a party til someone starts talking about Islam. So what happens when you can't remember the difference between Sunni and ShiA? That's when you bring up everyone's favorite Mullah, Nasrudin, star of the "Tales of Mullah 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. 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, any time 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. And I'll see you at the next cocktail party. I'll be the one with a fake laugh and a keir royale(ph).
BLOCK: Firoozeh Dumas promises she's fun to hang out with at cocktail parties. She's the author of "Funny in Farsi" and "Laughing Without An Accent." She suggested these three books, "The Man Who Was Thursday" by G.K. Chesterton, "The Adventures of Tintin" by Herge, and the collection of fables called "The New Tales of Nasrudin." Dumas suggests the translation by Eric Sorensen.
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