Recently, I have begun easing my son into bedtime by lying with him in my bed, and “interviewing” him for a bit. I ask him about his day, his preferences, and pretty much anything that pops into my head. He likes being taken seriously, and I like having a window into his mind as he hurtles inexorably towards Teenage Stonewalling.
A day or so ago, I asked him what four people he would have to dinner. I offered the usual rules for this game, including the fact that the invitees could be living or dead. His first three choices were fairly quick: Ben Franklin, Hitler, and Jesus. I was contemplating the problem of preparing a kosher meal for Jesus without offending Hitler while Sam struggled with how to fill the final seat. First it was given to Chauncey Billups, who plays for the Pistons. Then, almost immediately, he changed his mind and awarded the last spot to Barack Obama, although he qualified this choice by informing me that he, Sam, “is a Republican, like Daddy.” (And unlike me). I guess Obama’s invitation is therefore even more valuable.
Long after I had inquired more deeply into the reasons for his choices, I was thinking about what my own would be. I have played the “Dinner Party Game” literally hundreds of times over the years, but I rarely give it much thought, and I often fudge, giving a guest list that suits my current interests or amuses my companions. I have also, in the interest of impressing someone, been known to reel off a list of French existentialists, composers of atonal music and/or authors of New York Times bestsellers I have never actually read and have no intention of reading. It makes me feel very smart in a deceptive and unethical sort of way.
So, really, who would I ask? Do I go all sentimental and invite long-dead ancestors? Do I go for the kind of personality mix I might go for in planning a dinner party at which all of the guests were actually among the living? (I might not, for example, invite both Hitler and Jesus, or if I had to, I would also invite someone for each of them to hang out with – maybe Eva Braun and St. Paul).
I know that would invite Laurie Colwin, who was (and is) one of my favorite novelists, as well as being a very astute foodie. She died unexpectedly when she was only a bit older than I am now, and I consider the world to have been seriously diminished by that loss. I would like to ask her about several of her novels, particularly Family Happiness which may be my favorite modern novel, but I would also love to talk food and cooking and motherhood and personal philosophy with her. I also tend to think that she was the kind of person who would be charming, friendly and amusing, and help me with the dishes.
I think I’d also invite Louisa May Alcott. I have read and re-read all of her books, and I still re-read Little Women every single fall. I have always, privately, believed that I really am Jo March. In addition to writing fine novels that I have always loved, and having grown up knowing Emerson and Hawthorne (among others), Ms. Alcott was both an abolitionist and a feminist. I imagine her as being opinionated, but also friendly and well-mannered, and I easily see her holding her own and fitting in nicely with Laurie Colwin and me.
Oh, well, and Jane Austen. I considered Salinger, because he and Jane are neck and neck on my bookshelves and in my heart, but I think Jane is probably the better choice in terms of social compatibility. I have lots of questions for Mr. Salinger, but somehow a man who has been in seclusion for most of my life seems like a poor bet for lively post-prandial chatting.
Am I really so single-minded that all of my choices are women and writers? Apparently I am. There’s one slot left, and it goes to Sophia Coppola who is actually alive. She is responsible for writing and producing my favorite modern movie, “Lost in Translation,” and her other films aren’t too shabby, either. I have lots of questions about “Lost in Translation” that she might be willing to answer, and I’d also enjoy talking music with her, since the soundtrack to Marie Antoinette is one of the most interesting collections of music I’ve come across in ages.
I do like men, I really do, and I have other interests…I guess. Right now, this just really is the list I find most compelling. If I can cheat a tiny bit, maybe I could have Anthony Bourdain cook with Michael Ruhlman as his sous chef, and that way I work in two more people, both of whom are attractive and male. Is that cheating? Or would I rather cook with Laurie while Jane, Sophia and Louisa May sipped PomTinis in the living room? Hmmmm. This could all change tomorrow, but for right now, I like the idea of my own, literate, spirited and intellectual version of “Sex and the City.” Who would you invite?