Writer and editor Catherine Blyth has discovered a foolproof new way to drain the life out of a good chat, said Katharine Mieszkowski in Salon.com. While Blyth’s lively new book, The Art of Conversation, should help countless readers navigate parties or elevator rides with more aplomb, she herself found that discussing her book while she was working on it often proved to be a buzz kill. “Automatically, people feel put upon, assuming that I’m on a mission to teach them to talk proper,” she says. Worse, they instantly cocked their ears toward her in expectation of a string of Oscar Wilde–worthy quips. To Blyth, good gab is never about one person’s performing. “The wonder of conversation,” she says, “is its capacity to transform encounters into adventures.”

Though only 34, Blyth worries that Facebook and text-messaging are turning young people away from a more invigorating communication technology that’s been “in research and development for thousands of years.” Not surprisingly, she judges our skills to be in decline. “I think there is this more voyeuristic ‘sitting back and waiting to be served’ attitude,” she says. Blyth stresses that you have to listen well to get the most out of any conversation, but you can’t go dumb. You should even interrupt. When talk’s at its best, she says, the topic “seems to be like a quarry, and you’re both hunting it down.” Deft interruptions, she says, “are vital to percolate ideas.”