Reading Doug’s excellent post about the original Algonquin Round Table got me thinking about writers I’d love to have lunch with. (Served with a few rounds of cocktails, of course.) I pictured a circular table, covered by a crisp white cloth, with place settings for six. One of the chairs is mine. The other five are for writers I admire for one reason or another. Who would be excellent company? Who would I want advice from? Who could I listen to for hours? Since this is my debut at Algonquin Redux, I thought it would be fitting to share my guest list — and to hear yours.
Because my list of living writers is too large for only five chairs and one blog post, I limited my invitations to authors who are no longer with us. Still, winnowing down the guest list was a tough task. Hemingway or Fitzgerald? Dickens or Austen? Will Capote be an attention hog? Will Salinger be too shy?
Finally, after much internal debate, I came up with my final five and a few compelling reasons why they belong at the table.
Really, this is a given. One of America’s greatest writers (not to mention greatest humorists) should be on every guest list, and he probably was during his heyday. No one combined common-sense wisdom with erudite wit better than Twain, and I have a feeling he would own the conversation from the moment he sat down, looking dapper in one of his trademark white suits. It would be thrilling to get his opinion on American life today — Imagine what bon mots he’d drop about Twitter and Bravo reality shows! — and hear him talk about what the country was like when he was around. I suspect it would be like reading his LIFE ON THE MISSISSIPPI, only better.
The queen of mysteries was no slouch in the humor department. (She famously said her archaeologist husband grew more interested in her the older she became.) But I want to lunch with Dame Agatha to hear about her work ethic. How does one write mystery after mystery without it getting stale or tiring? How do you keep the ideas coming? My guess is she’ll tell me in that stiff-upper-lip manner the British are known for to just sit down, write and not think so damn much about it.
H. A. and Margret Rey
I know, I know. I’m cheating with this one. But if you asked me to name my favorite character in all of literature, I would most likely say Curious George. This means both of his creators deserve a place at the table. Besides, the Reys have more to talk about than just illustrated monkeys. The pair met in Brazil, when H. A. was a salesman in the Amazon. After getting married, they returned to Europe and were forced to flee Paris on bicycles as the Nazis approached. One of the few possessions they took with them was a manuscript of CURIOUS GEORGE. It’s a compelling tale I would love to hear in person. I’m sure Twain would, too.
Every party needs a wild card, and the author of VALLEY OF THE DOLLS would be it. I imagine her swanning in fashionably late, dressed in her loudest Pucci minidress, already tipsy from the three bloody Marys she had for breakfast. She will fawn all over the host (yours truly) and snub Dame Agatha for selling more books than her. As the lunch wears on and the cocktails continue to flow, she’ll reveal confidences about the guilt she feels about institutionalizing her autistic son and how her marriage was a sham. Then she will pass out discreetly in the ladies room, but not before admitting she’s insanely jealous that she didn’t write FIFTY SHADES OF GREY. Wild indeed.
Henry David Thoreau
This is the man I turn to as the lunch winds down. Twain is outside, smoking a cigar. Christie and the Reys are chit-chatting. Jackie Susann is still in the aforementioned ladies room. Now it’s just me and Mr. Thoreau. He speaks quietly yet with conviction, talking about nature, the government, philosophy. I’ll ask a few questions, mostly embarrassing ones like, “At Walden Pond, weren’t you afraid of snakes?” But mostly I’ll simply listen, hope I can retain just a fraction of his knowledge and, eventually, become a better person.
Well, that’s my rather eccentric list. But, like the Reys’ tiny monkey, I’m curious to hear what authors would be on your guest list. Write ‘em if you got ‘em in the comments sections.
Todd Ritter is the author of two mysteries, BAD MOON and DEATH NOTICE, and an e-novella, VICIOUS CIRCLE. Born and raised in rural Pennsylvania, he now lives in New Jersey. Visit him online at www.toddritteronline.com.