Several years ago, my family compiled a list of boring conversational topics and taped it to our fridge. We began with “NAFTA,” soon added “Frequent Flyer miles” and “funny things the cat did,” then quickly crammed the sheet with monumentally dull subjects. Eventually, of course, the list itself became a boring conversational topic, and we tossed it in the garbage. In Boredom: The Literary History of a State of Mind, Patricia Meyer Spacks contends that such a list is a quintessentially modern idea: Boredom—as opposed to “weariness,” “monotony,” and the more existential “ennui”—is a new discovery. Only in the 19th century, when Westerners divided “work” from “leisure,” did they start fearing the awful sensation of not having enough to do. Spacks livens up her tiresome subject at 7 p.m. at Chapters, 1512 K St. NW. FREE. (202) 347-5495. (David Plotz)