“You’re hosting a literary dinner party. What three writers are invited?” I roll my eyes whenever I read questions like this, which is pretty frequently now that the New York Times Book Review includes it among their standards in their weekly Q&A feature.
There are a number of reasons I think it’s a silly question: it encourages posturing, it promises more insight than it delivers, and so on. But it was last week’s Q&A with Garrison Keillor that made me realize the essential problem isn’t with the process of determining the most interesting names or least likely mixes but with the notion of the dinner party itself. By this I don’t mean to suggest that writers aren’t good company (like people, some are, some aren’t) or that you can’t expect them to be as interesting off the page as on it.
It’s that even by the pie-in-the-sky logic of the question, a dinner party seems like a pretty unimaginative option. Why not pick something better suited to the person — about a stroll through the garden with Virginia Woolf, or a Parisian pub crawl with Hemingway and Fitzgerald? Or a walk through the woods with David Attenborough?