After “52 best books” now “Two with a book”: Sophisticated small talk

radio review

“52 best books” was sold under protests – now it is clear: the new SRF literature program works excellently

“52 best books” was the flagship of SRF literature. Its abolition triggered violent protests, and rightly so. The new broadcast format “Two with a book” is now as fresh as a crash course in upscale party talk.

The two SRF literature editors Felix Münger (left) and Simon Leuthold in a relaxed conversation on the show “Zwei mit Buch”.

SRF / Oscar Alessio

Be honest, dear friends of culture: outside of the literary bubble, new novels are seldom a topic of conversation at dinner, aperitifs and parties. I think that’s a pity. I now call out to the many cultural pessimists who mourn the loss of the flagship “52 best books” of SRF literature: The new literature vessel “Two with a book” offers a welcome crash course for this.

This is how you can take off from a small talk into an entertaining, personal, exciting conversation about new books – and if you want, also multi-layered, stylistically competent and with depth. Always with permission to digress from the subject. This can even work if the other person has not yet read the new novel.

This is how a crash course in sophisticated small talk works

Anyone who thought up to this point that I would write a polemic and hide my mockery behind an ironic masquerade is wrong. No, “Two with a book” has charm, even if one can scoff at the title. First the two moderators, then the book – that’s vain and in the wrong order.

I’m also happy to admit: After the first sentences of episode 1, I wanted to switch off again: “Say, Simon, are you actually satisfied with yourself the way you are?” Felix Münger asks his editorial colleague Simon Leuthold. He replies: “Actually, yes,” apart perhaps from his impatience, he adds. You shouldn’t start small talk with such hidden self-praise. The subject of the show would actually have been the novel “A simpler intervention” by Yael Inokai.

Next question: Would you, Simon, have an unpleasant trait surgically removed from your brain? Then he gets confused. Yes, yes, the duo is already in three steps in the theme of the novel. That would also work better at a party than the snobbish: “Have you read the new Houellebecq?” Author Yael Inokai later has his say, and a psychiatrist explains how he still performs brain surgery to curb extreme mood swings in his patients.

Felix Münger states: The novel can be read dystopically, feministly, historically. And what he particularly liked: that the language changes with the temperament of the story, first cool and sober in the medical ambience, then more flowery when a love story opens a way out to self-determination. Interim result: good entertainment with substance.

“Two with a book” breaks up the one-way communication

After the first four episodes of the follow-up program to «52 best books», the highlight of this new broadcast vehicle became clear to me. Here, literature should be interlocked with one’s own life while chatting. Unfortunately, teaching literature is far too often one-way communication: This applies to meetings, interviews, even readings.

And no matter how hot the tears of the regular audience are over the discontinued “52 best books” format: There, too, one listened to a technical discussion with devotion or interest. In an ideal world of unlimited resources, one could broadcast many formats of literature for all possible stakeholders. However, in our real media world with limited resources, I’m fine with relying on this new, fresh format.

Can literature be fun? Yes, but!

Well then, there is still a lot to complain about in “Book for Two”: text passages are hardly ever read out loud, one prefers to laugh at the interview humor of an author or have autobiographical references explained; the fact that the literary mediators have to chat in an exaggeratedly good mood seems irritating, as if they had already had an aperitif before the show; You look for criticism with a magnifying glass, but that was no different with “52 best books”. Conclusion: Literature obviously has to be fun in “Two with a Book”. Counter-question: Isn’t that allowed? But!

Small-talk navel-gazing doesn’t always deliver the best bon mots

The previous broadcasts show that a discussion about literature with Duzis and dialect is popular but by no means clumsy. However, the risk of small-talk navel-gazing cannot be dismissed out of hand. If, for example, presenter Nicola Steiner confesses in episode 2 that she likes to read books because she finds her own life so boring – then that’s more of a failed bon mot. You can smile away at the aperitif. Because this is also the way the underestimated small talk can begin. It can be an invitation to an open conversation, an offer to stimulate the witty, charming and funny of the other person.

But where is the sadness and introversion in all of this, which is also what characterizes literature? Well, SRF no longer has a flagship in the literature section, but a few party boats. I’m enjoying it so far. And from time to time «Two with a book» is also allowed to set sail as a submarine for quiet and dreamy people.