Tired of those painful silences? Ready to stop fumbling around trying to think of something interesting to say? Ryan Chapman to the rescue!
He’s the author of “Conversation Sparks,” a thick little book of “trivia worth talking about.” Based on his Tumblr “Fill the Silence,” it contains more than 350 “true facts” and doodle-heads designed to jolt you from bovine quietude. It publishes on April 1 — no fooling.
This weekend, he and I struggled through the following difficult conversation.
So. . . . I’ve been sitting here for, like, 10 minutes. When are you going to say something?
I was composing the perfect opening line. …I’m not the quickest thinker.
Is it true that Cliff Clavin from “Cheers” was your inspiration?
Remember when he went on “Jeopardy”? That was peak Cliff Clavin. I aspire to a fraction of his erudition and barstool wisdom.
Did you know that Woody rode a Schwinn bike with a banana seat?
I forgot about that! Who would have thought the bar-back would become the movie star?
A book based on a Tumblr account. . . . How many copies has Harold Bloom ordered?
I knew I should have added in some pages on Shakespeare. There goes my New Haven sales.
You’re a friendly guy. Honestly, what would you know about the trouble the rest of us awkward dweebs have making small talk?
One of the fortunate aspects of my career has been meeting writers I’ve long admired. One of the unfortunate aspects of this is my inevitable, rising bile of awkwardness. My somewhat helpful mantra: “Don’t act weird, don’t act weird, don’t act weird.”
Let’s imagine there’s a couple out on a blind date. They’re both pretty nervous. The conversation slows to a stall. But then the guy says, “There’s a word for the armhole in your shirt. It’s an armsaye.” I’m thinking that guy is going home alone, no?
Well, he should have saved armsaye for their first anniversary. But when those awkward pauses arise, you have to say something, right? Maybe she replies, “You like shirts too? They’re my second favorite garment.”
I think you’re being wildly optimistic, but let’s move on. How did you confirm what you call these ‘true facts,’ such as this one: “The popularity of the name Wendy comes from one source: J.M. Barrie’s ‘Peter Pan’ from 1904”?
Census data helps. I’m happy to report the book passed my publisher’s two rounds of fact-checking.
Why are we so fascinated by isolated, quirky bits of information?
It’s in our history. The first bit of trivia was, “Did you know that apple’s forbidden?” But why the perennial fascination? I think it’s because these little nuggets are inherently social, like a secret you can tell anyone.
Can you explain the occult art of ordering these 350 conversation starters in exactly the right order?
I tried the tarot, took ayahuasca and consulted my local guru, all with mixed results. In the end, my editor worked his magic.
Tell me one of the “sparks” you almost included but finally decided against.
Vladimir Nabokov has three birthdays. He was born on April 10 under Russia’s old Julian calendar, and their switch to the Gregorian one resulted in a rare gap. Somehow, his new official birthday was both April 22 and April 23. I don’t understand how that’s possible, but I’m told it’s true.