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  • Deborah Yaffe

Dinner time

A common Janeite fantasy goes like this: You meet Jane Austen. Naturally, she finds you interesting and delightful. You get her take on, say, social media or contemporary feminism. You learn how Sanditon was going to end. Heck, maybe you even pluck up the courage to ask her what was the actual deal with Tom Lefroy. Is she offended that you pried into something so personal? Of course not! (See under: interesting and delightful.)


A sweet dream, no? And apparently one that’s shared by at least some of the authors featured in the New York Times Book Review’s “By the Book” feature, which marked its tenth anniversary earlier this year.


The weekly column features a conversation with a writer – invariably, a famous or semi-famous writer with a new book to flog – and frequently, the questions include this one: “You’re organizing a literary dinner party. Which three writers, dead or alive, do you invite?”


Last week, the Book Review tallied up its interviewees’ twenty favorite literary dinner guests, and, with seventeen votes, Our Jane ended up in fifth place, in a three-way tie with Oscar Wilde and Charles Dickens. Shakespeare and James Baldwin topped the list, with thirty-two votes apiece; Mark Twain and Toni Morrison captured third and fourth place. (Check out the Book Review's illustration, which features Austen gossiping confidentially with Virginia Woolf -- eighth place, fifteen votes -- while Wilde prepares to dance on the table.)


I must say, Austen's mere seventeen invitations seems paltry to me: After all, ten years of weekly columns amounts to more than five hundred interviewees with, at three names per person, more than fifteen hundred potential dinner-party seats. Admittedly, the whole top twenty garnered only 284 invitations among them, but still: seventeen?


Clearly, these famous or semi-famous authors have poor taste. She should ditch their dinner parties and come to mine instead. I’m sure she’d find me interesting and delightful.

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