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I'm an avid reader of non-fiction. Most books I read are very relevant to the real world (topics such as psychology, history, various religions, parenting, racial tensions in America, etc.) Quite a few of my opinions have come to be based on book knowledge (paired with some life experiences of course). As a result, when these topics come up in casual conversation it only seems natural that I would bring some book knowledge to the table. My question is how to do this well. Here are some options I see using a somewhat silly example:

  1. Stating I read a book. "I read a book on productivity and it said multitasking isn't possible." This seems awkward to me, most people don't really seem to care that I read a book on the topic. It also seems overly safe as my opinions are not included in the statement. This does gives the added weight of an opinion backed by research however.
  2. State the information as fact (or personal opinion). "Multitasking isn't possible." This doesn't give credit to the source of the information. This doesn't give any weight to the reliability of the fact.
  3. Use a more generic I've heard statment. "I've heard that multitasking isn't possible." Seems smooth to me but adds no credibility to the statement.

None of these seem like the best option to me. What is a good way to bring up book knowledge that isn't awkward but also adds credibility to the statement?

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    Who are you having this conversation with? It probably depends on your audience. – Erik Sep 28 '17 at 20:30
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    Depends very much on the audience. – NVZ Sep 28 '17 at 20:36
  • I've used all of these before! Can you give an example of a time that referencing book knowledge didn't work well for you? I'm wondering what aspect you wish to improve on. – Em C Sep 28 '17 at 20:45
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    Agree that more detail will make this a better question. Is authority of statement (the fact that it's based on your reading) the most important thing? Or appearing humble but correct? Or, furthering the conversation? Or other? – anongoodnurse Sep 28 '17 at 21:27
  • Do you possibly come across as overly knowledgeable in these conversations? Along the lines of why sometimes it is best not to be the smart guy? – user3169 Sep 29 '17 at 0:17
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To answer this you first need to understand what kind of conversation you're having. In particular, is the focus the topic or the people?

A presentation at a professional conference, a university class, a discussion among peers in the research lab about their current project -- these are all examples where the focus is the topic. The more supported your claims are, the better. You might have conversations like this:

A: ...and then we can frob the thingum to solve our heat problem.

B: But what about the technobabble problem? Did you read Dr. Moriarty's paper in JIR last month?

A: No, that's not a problem. Know & All published a study about this, where they...

That's one extreme. At the other end of the spectrum, you have conversations that are really about the participants more than the content itself. Family conversations can often be like that, in my experience. They can go something like this:

Mom: ...so I told him I restart my router every day to make the Internet go faster.

Me, inside voice: err, that's not how it works. But this was a tangent from her story about her neighbor's computer woes.

Me: Was your neighbor able to recover anything from his fried hard drive?

In this example, the conversation is social lubricant; it's not really about router care. This doesn't mean you should never correct or clarify; for example, if your family member talks about how he doesn't worry about opening attachments because he has anti-virus software (that's five years old and he never updates), you probably want to do something about that.

The fact that you know something or read something in a book, by itself, usually isn't very important in a social conversation. People are talking with you, not your bookshelf. The exception is if you've learned something that you really do find exciting or fascinating and that you think the people you're talking with would be interested in. In that case you can work it into a conversation, but do still be careful to give people an "out" (more on that in a moment). Something like:

Coworkers at lunch: talking about newly-discovered exoplanets in another star system

You: I was just reading about that. Did you know that there might be four habitable planets in just that one system? I didn't think that was possible, but this article in (some journal) sounded pretty convincing.

Then you wait for someone to express interest.

It's important to give people an out. Maybe you thought the conversation was more about content but the others think it's more social and they'd rather segue into a conversation about using faster-than-light travel to reach those planets. Or maybe they want to take that nugget of information at face value and talk about what it would be like to live in a system with several habitable planets. (Or maybe they just don't want to hear another lecture from you, if you tend to misread conversations.)

So you make a conversational offer without launching in straightaway. Give them the chance to say "oh really? how do they know that?", or to instead say "oh cool" and then move on. Conversation is give and take. Be sensitive to context and how others are participating. Don't be Sheldon Cooper.

  • It sounds like you're saying "don't bring it up if it's not related to what the conversation is about" (or at least your answer doesn't focus on how to do that at all). Surely it's a decent way to "create more conversation", no? – NotThatGuy Sep 29 '17 at 17:26
  • @NotThatGuy sure, I (and others around me) do that, using the same "give people an out" approach I mentioned here. The question assumed a conversation already in progress so that's what I focused on here, but starting a new conversation with something like "did you hear about X?" or "I just saw an interesting article that said (one-sentence summary with optional hook)" works. – Monica Cellio Sep 29 '17 at 17:50
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Books are an excellent source of information.

Generally speaking, though, telling someone you read a fact in a book (even non-fiction) isn't sufficient to make them instantly trust that the fact must be true. Especially in today's market where anyone can publish a book themselves. Even if it's a respectable source, unless the person you are talking to recognizes and is familiar with the author, it's not going to be sufficient to lend credence to your argument.

If you were talking with someone and they mentioned the blue sky and you came back with "The sky isn't blue -- I read it in a book" and leave it at that, you are not contributing to the conversation, regardless of the method you chose from your example to deliver the statement.

Your comment will be interpreted differently depending on who you are talking with. Some may think that you're referring to sunset, when the sky changes color. Many may recall back to childhood science classes, being told that a green object looks green because it absorbs the other colors and the joke that it's actually all the colors you don't see. Perhaps they will turn the idea that the actual molecules themselves in the sky aren't colored, and we aren't seeing them. Others may interpret it as a dig against pollution, and how the sky is getting discolored because of smoke.

Regardless of whether it's a fact or an opinion, a statement isn't contributing to the conversation unless the other party understands why it is being made.

It's the same with a book.

Non-Fiction books (at least, good, compelling ones that you will be quoting) do not simply list facts. They describe the science or history that led to the fact and give a full description of what it means and why it is important.

If a book tells you "The sky isn't blue" then it doesn't matter if it's fiction or nonfiction, you aren't going to accept that argument just because it's written down. A decent article, however, will go on to say "The sky is predominately a combination of blue and violet wavelengths -- it looks blue to humans because the neural signal from our eyes processes the combination of blue plus violet light the same way it would handle blue plus white light." It could go on to talk about how if humans evolved an extra range of cones, they would see the sky differently than when they're looking at what we perceive to be the same color blue.

If you are going to use "Book Learning" in conversation, you should keep the same thing in mind. Telling me a fact is not useful. It does not contribute to the conversation, and it is likely not interesting enough for me to remember. So don't just tell me that Multitasking isn't possible -- I eat while watching TV, I listen to music while driving. Explain to me the rationale that led you to believe the book when it told you Multitasking isn't possible.

tldr; "Book Knowledge" isn't any different from any other knowledge you might have. Examples 1, 2, and 3 are just hooks to get the other party interested in a topic, or to find out if they're already familiar with what you're about to talk about.
Which one you choose isn't nearly as important as what you say afterwards.

1) "I read a book on productivity and it said multitasking isn't possible. Apparently, the research shows .... Frankly, I have a hard time believing it, because..."

2) "Multitasking isn't possible. People think they can multitask because... "

3) "I've heard that multitasking isn't possible. The claim was that..."

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"Hmm ... I read [book] by [author] and he makes a pretty strong case that multitasking doesn't work. Here was his argument..."

So you're identifying that you've gotten your position from this book, which is presumably written by someone who has thought deeply on the subject. And then you summarize the high points of his argument. This invites your conversation partner to evaluate the argument and decide whether he likes it or not.

I've had a similar experience talking with friends about dinosaurs; I cited "The Dinosaur Heresies" by Robert Bakker and his lovely arguments [1].

Do be aware, of course, that "bcos it's in a book" doesn't automatically make it right, but it does, fairly or not, encourage one to stop and take its approach seriously.

[1] If you are a dino enthusiast at all, I beg you to run -- not walk -- to your local library and check it out!

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You ask, "How to use book knowledge in casual conversation." If the conversation is indeed 'casual', then why the need to have your statement backed by research (Option 1 comment), or reliable (Option 2 comment) or credible (Option 3 comment)? If it's strictly a casual conversation and there is a point you want to add from what you have read, simply add it.

You might ask them...casually...have you heard about such-and-such? Find out if this a topic they want to pursue. If yes, then gradually sway the conversation from casual to educational or informative or a debate. (Not all book knowledge is truth - as has been cited previously.)

Is your desire to show what you have learned from books? or is your desire to simply have a casual conversation?

As an avid reader, I understand what you are asking. Define for yourself what you want from the conversation before moving forward.

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