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Just in time for the holidays: Five books to help you start a conversation at a dinner party

These recent releases will give you plenty to talk about with family, friends and co-workers.

The best remedy is your local indie bookstore, where you’ll find plenty of material to give your cocktail banter a little boost, writes Sue Carter.

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The best remedy is your local indie bookstore, where you’ll find plenty of material to give your cocktail banter a little boost, writes Sue Carter.

Does the idea of holiday-party small talk make you break out in hives? The best remedy is your local indie bookstore, where you’ll find plenty of material to give your cocktail banter a little boost.

Short stories

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If someone asks you at a party about being a “Cat Person,” chances are they won’t be talking about pet allergies, but about Kristen Roupenian’s story in the New Yorker, an excruciating tale of a young woman’s sexual encounter with an older man. It’s rare that people talk about a short story — let alone see one go viral — so capitalize on the zeitgeist by mentioning Canadian story collections that in some ways explore the tenuousness and uncomfortable nature of gender dynamics, including Carleigh Baker’s Bad Endings, which was nominated for this year’s Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Award.

Resurrection

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Kick off a fun debate by sharing facts about “resurrection science,” as introduced in Britt Wray’s Rise of the Necrofauna: The Science, Ethics, and Risks of De-Extinction. Wray provides a fascinating survey of how (and why) biotechnologists are toiling away in labs to bring back extinct animals like the passenger pigeon and the woolly mammoth. We’ve all seen Jurassic Park, so ask fellow partygoers, what could possibly go wrong?

Not such a bad habit

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Looking for a way to connect with your co-workers at the annual office shindig? According to Swearing Is Good For You: The Amazing Science of Bad Language by British research scientist Emma Byrne, cursing can help teams bond and increase productivity. Byrne makes a compelling case for how profanity contributes to a healthy life, even for chimpanzees, who have been witnessed developing their own cuss words.

Giller winner

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It’s December, and you just realized that you haven’t read a single book this year? Pick up Michael Redhill’s novel Bellevue Square, which won this year’s $100,000 Giller Prize. Not only will you give the impression that you’re an informed member of the literati, but you’ll get to enjoy a quirky, engrossing story about a woman convinced she has a doppelganger who hangs out in Toronto’s lively Kensington Market.

Swill and spit

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Make up for bringing that cheap bottle of plonk to the party by enlightening your hosts on the correct way to swill and spit, with a little help from Bianca Bosker’s highly entertaining memoir, Cork Dork: A Wine-Fueled Adventure Among the Obsessive Sommeliers, Big Bottle Hunters, and Rogue Scientists Who Taught Me to Live for Taste. The mouthful of a title says it all: a personal story following Bosker as she connects with an elite group of sommeliers for a crash course in the nuances of wine tasting and serving.

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