Friday, March 8, 2013

My dinner with zombies

Larry D has a Friday Feature on his blog today asking the question:
If you had the opportunity to have a meal with any 3 people, living or deceased, who would they be?

Now, not just any three people. They can’t be fictional, for one thing. And of course, there will be a category.

The category this week is: Authors 

So, which three authors (not poets, not songwriters, not playwrights – I’m talking writers of fiction here) would you like to break bread with?

As I told Larry during our recent interview, I'm kind of glad this wasn't an official interview question, because I'm terrible at this stuff.

In the first place, whenever somebody starts asking this particular sort of question, my first thought is that I would have to host this dinner party.  Now, I'm not a good hostess, or a natural one.  I do all right when entertaining relatives, mostly because they are forgiving and don't expect much (and boy, do they get it!).  But the thought of having to invite over for dinner people I know only slightly or only by reputation breaks me out in a cold sweat, and when you add to that the notion that these are famous people, some of whom are technically dead, my mind goes somewhere to the west of blank.

What do you feed zombie authors, anyway?  And don't say "brains," because I'm pretty sure even in death Jane Austen wouldn't turn cannibal.  But she would probably still have exquisite table manners, which would make me all shrinking and nervous over my total ignorance of Regency-era etiquette and how that would apply to a dinner party in which Austen might be seated alongside someone like Oscar Wilde or Geoffrey Chaucer.  At least Chaucer would have no more idea of what fork to use during the Pluperfect Penultimate Whimsical Fish Course than I would.

On Larry's blog, I answered the question with the easy grouping of Lewis, Chesterton, and Tolkien.  But, as I also said, I'd get dismissed--being female--when they got to the port/cigars stage of things, which is also when the good conversation would break out.

But there's a bigger problem than what to do with an undead Chesterton at a dinner party, and it is this: I'm not all that sure that having dinner with authors, living or dead, is going to be the witty and scintillating experience people think it would be.

Lots of authors are shy introverts, after all.  Some of them, in person, are (or were, if we're talking about deceased ones) rather gauche or clumsy or bombastic.  Some of them had full-blown personality disorders that made them, in person, unpleasant to be with, no matter how delightful it was to cuddle up with their prose.  And this is especially true of fiction authors; nonfiction writers, after all, live in the real world in order to write about it, and thus may actually be really nice to meet and talk to (at least, that's been my experience so far).

So: take three of those people, completely ignore whether they're actually alive or not, forget about the social customs and food they're used to eating, disregard the possibility that you don't speak their language (Dostoyevsky comes to mind), overlook the strong chance that at least one of them was rather unpleasant in person, plunk them down at a dinner table and make them endure dinner hosted by an overstressed redhead who is clearly out of her depth both in terms of the mechanics of the party and in terms of any conversations that arise, and what do you have?

You have a dinner with zombies.  Or at least one, anyway, who will try to choke back her sobs until it's all over because she doesn't own the proper lace-edged handkerchief to weep into, and doesn't want to disgust Austen or the Bronte sisters by grabbing paper tissues.


LarryD said...

Meme killer you.


B et G said...

I would probably choose Hans Christian Anderson and Oscar Wilde for two of them, because I don't think it would be awkward company. Hans was always socially clueless and would go off in monologues, sharing his art etc., and if I was ready for that, I could totally let him do that and make him feel welcome to do it. I think Wilde would be okay with that too and would be good about engaging with Anderson. I already know Anderson and Dickens have a strained relationship because Dickens is much more aware of social proprieties, so I wouldn't invite Dickens to that particular party. I'd have to think more about who the third would be but I guess the theme I'd have going is that my guests would be just raucus enough to take off the social pressure of which fork to use or the polite thing to say, which would enable me to actually relax and enjoy their conversation. Maybe you'd be the third, so you could enjoy it with me :)

Rebecca in ID

Sherry Antonetti said...

Austen knew enough to never make anyone else feel uncomfortable was the truth of manners, that is charity, so even a zombie Austen would suffer any indiginites of protocol with grace so as to not embarrass the hostess.

Chesteron and Lewis, and Tolkien, I'd give them the cigars and be willing to provide coffee or brandy or what have you to be the fly on the wall after giving them today's newspaper to discuss.