A Novel Approach to Better Cocktail Banter

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We’ve all been in this awkward situation: You’re sharing a postprandial Mad Men aperitif with an unusually erudite group of influential sorts, perhaps parsing the pros and cons of your dinner selections, when someone drops a literary reference to an author or book you know you should know, but don’t.

Before long, you’re up to your furrowed brow in a lively discussion of said author’s best books, worst film adaptations, personal trivia and chief inspirations, with absolutely zero clue what anyone is talking about.

Short of magically transporting yourself to a Lit 101 cram course, your choices are a) to lean in, nod frequently and remain mute, or b) reveal yourself to be an unread, callow shallow-ender. So you clam up.

Being well-read is revered the world over. We admire individuals who have chosen to devote their free time to the appreciation of the world’s great literary works, and rightly so. It moves the planet forward in its way. It’s also very hard to fake.

How do you make the leap from a Nordstrom or NASCAR expertise to Nabokov?

(Wait for it…) Yes! There’s an app for that!

Gnod, short for the global network of discovery, has produced an ingenious, infectious literary tourist map that expands both your knowledge and enjoyment of books by visually surrounding your starting search point with links to dozens of similar authors. It’s like having a literary circle of pals without actually being an avid reader.

How can this help a harried meeting planner? Say six months out, you know you’ll be sipping Manhattans with some A-listers who love Stephen King. You search the book map for his name and voile: a small constellation of kindred horror/science fiction writers appears. It includes authors whose work influenced King, such as Ray Bradbury, Frank Herbert, H.P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allen Poe; his contemporaries, including Anne Rice, Michael Crichton and Peter Straub; and authors whose work reflect his, including Neal Stephenson, Neil Gaiman and William Gibson. (Gnod has similar tourist maps for music, films and art.)

Admittedly, Gnod’s clever cosmos alone won’t instantly make you the Jay Gatsby of your upcoming book gabfest. But by presenting a concise view of the whirl you’re about to enter, it provides the leads you need to become familiar enough with the relevant authors to make you comfortable enough to participate, if only by asking intelligent literary questions.

Don’t stop there, of course. Reading is one of the most heartwarming, mind-expanding, career-enhancing, affordable pastimes available worldwide, with life benefits well beyond our imagining. Once you discover a fiction or nonfiction genre and author that speaks to you, search their literary map for kindred works you might enjoy.

As Stephen King once observed, “Books are a uniquely portable magic.”

Jay MacDonald

Jay MacDonald

Jay MacDonald is an award-winning journalist, author and blogger who incorporates humor and human interest into a broad range of topics. Follow him on Twitter @omnisaurus

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