The Dinner Party Question

Dinner Table
Dinner Table

A classic conversation starter is, “What four people from history, alive or dead, would you invite to a dinner party?” I hear this query a lot on podcasts, especially with authors. What four authors would I invite to a dinner party?

I’ve struggled with this question for two reasons. One, am I putting together a party of just my favorite authors? Like an all-star team? Or assemble a group who could converse? How much conversation can an old Russian master have with Murakami and Mark Twain? Different languages, different time periods, etc. The second element of the question I’ve struggled with is hosting a dinner party… I’m not George Plimpton. Seems like something out of a seventies playbook.

I’m practical and will error on the side of realism. My invited authors need to share a language and a time. As to not limit myself too much, I’ll have a modern guest list and another from authors active in the 20th century.

The modern party is easy. David Mitchell, Neil Gaiman, Emily St. Mandel and Haruki Murakami. This list won’t surprise readers of this site, as these are my favorite authors. This group speaks English (I don’t know how good Murakami’s English is, but he lived in the US for years) and is living. Much of their writing is based in the modern world with otherworldly/supernatural elements. All have had books adapted for either movies or series. I can’t know for sure if they are fans of each other, but Mitchell wrote Number9Dream like Murakami, so he is a fan. And someone who writes about Japan.

Oddly, none of these authors are American (by birth)… maybe this adds to the mix? I picture the four of them sitting in a private room in a nice restaurant in NYC in the early afternoon. Mixed fare, some wine, but nothing crazy. Conversation is slow to start, but picks up eventually, swapping publishing stories and Hollywood gossip and life on book tours. The glue is their commonality.

My dinner party for authors of a different era is more complicated. It has to start with Hemingway. He’s the star of the team (warts and all), so I’ll build around him. F. Scott Fitzgerald is easy to slot in, as they (for a short time) were friends and confidants. John Cheever in the third seat. I’ve only read a handful of his short stories (The Swimmer is one of my favorites), but his reputation as bon vivant, the celebrity hard-drinking author from the fifties and sixties, makes him a lively choice. And perhaps he was a fan of both Hemingway and Fitzgerald, who were of a similar era.

The final slot is hard. Can I get away with an author from a different time? Hemingway listed Mark Twain as an influence, stating all modern American literature comes from Huck Finn. Twain was from an earlier era… barely. Twain passed around 1910 and Hemingway was born in 1899. Or adding Gertrude Stein instead. I’d recreate Paris in the twenties, but is that so terrible?

This group would enjoy their dinner either in a Parisian cafe or a hot, open-air bar in Cuba, complete with waiters in white jackets, bottomless rum and slow-turning fans, tucked away from a chaotic street.

The list for a modern party was so easy. I’m disappointed I couldn’t make it happen. Maybe an indie documentarian or short series producer on Apple TV plus could pull them together. The older party feels more like a re-creation.

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