There’s this memetic question that people ask from time to time, and it’s a fun exercise. The question: “What six people, living or dead, would you invite to a dinner party?” One assumes, here, that any dead people you invite would be alive, again, for said party. Because otherwise that would kind of be a party killer, whether they remain corpses or become zombies. So, I picture it as more of the kind of thing as in that Babylon 5 episode “Day of the Dead,” where the dead come back, but only briefly, and without all the rotting or brain-eating. But I digress.
I don’t know why it’s always six, and I don’t know why it has to be a dinner party. Let’s assume that bonding over food is a thing all humans share, and that seven (because I’m the seventh person) is the largest group of people who can have any sort of meaningful conversation without it splintering into sub-conversations. Yeah, let’s assume those facts (that I just made up).
My answer to these memes is usually something along the lines of “my current friends,” because it’s an easy answer that is also very flattering to the person asking, because they’re in that group. It’s also true. I mean, that’s why they’re my friends. But it’s also beside the point.
The most recent time I saw the meme was on Facebook. Thanks to a conjunction of that appearance of the meme along with some videos I’d watched over the last few days, I realized I actually had an actual answer! But I will not be artificially constrained to just one party. Because . . . well, because reasons, that’s why.
. . .
Oh, fine. I think it’s important with any dinner party that your guests get along with one another, have things in common, and get along with one another (it bears repeating). I mean, you wouldn’t invite your loudmouth, racist uncle Bob to dinner with your Jewish or African-American friends, right? That would be inviting disaster. And we’re dealing not with just friends and family, we’re dealing with people throughout history.
(This is what is called “setting up the premise of the post.” See how seamlessly I did it? You’re welcome!)
I’m always kind of amused by people’s answers to this question. “Jeanne d’Arc, Jesus, Cleopatra, Albert Einstein, Sir Isaac Newton, and Madonna” would be a typical, ridiculous answer. It’s asking for trouble. It would be the worst dinner party ever. I mean, come on. Cleopatra and Madonna would get in a sexy-off contest (possibly involving underwear and snakes) while Einstein and Newton argued physics in at least three languages and Jesus tries to convince Jeanne not to slay everyone else for being heretics. Talk about a party buzz-kill. But it would make an awesome YouTube video. Guaranteed for millions of hits. But I digress once more.
So I decided that I’d have to have four parties. Because I immediately thought of four people in vastly different categories, and was fairly sure they would not get along, in the very unlikely event of a Day-of-the-Dead-style resurrection just to come to a dinner party thrown by a total stranger. So even though I had to have them, it would be kinder to them to have them in related groups. </premise set-up>
Also, these are for me to selfishly sit and bask in the inevitably wonderful conversation(s) that would grow organically. Or I’d toss a few leading statements out there to see how they’d react.
Party the First: Teh Science
These guys are not only scientists, they are all excellent at communicating complex ideas in science to the lay public. That’s me! I’m so lay, I might as well rhyme! I have just enough understanding of physics that I could probably follow them if they remembered to speak down to on my level. All of them have books or podcasts or TV shows or some combination of the three. The reason I put Ann Druyan and Carl Sagan on the same line is that they were married until Sagan’s death in 1996. They’re kind of a package deal. :)
Also, one of the tracks that is on the Voyager space probe’s golden record is a representation of Ann’s EEG while she’s thinking about how much she loves Dr. Sagan. I literally tear up every time I hear or read the story. So even without Dr. Sagan, she’d be on my list.
Party the Second: Teh Funny
Do I even need to justify or explain this list? I didn’t think so. Also, I’ll add that if you’ve never experienced the comedy of Adam Hills, you owe it to yourself to look him up on YouTube and/or NetFlix and just . . . enjoy. He definitely fits (as far as I’m concerned) with the other luminaries on the list.
I could add so, so many more people to that list.
I would, of course, have a supply of oxygen on hand, and some medication to ease my aching jaw and abdominal muscles from all the laughter.
Party the Third: Teh Fanboy/Squeebait
I would challenge the last three to collaborate on a project and hire the first three to star in it. I might also suggest that it wouldn’t suck if the project also included Drew Barrymore and Neil Patrick Harris. Just saying. And I would sit and squee with (barely suppressed inner) glee while the six of them tossed around ideas and then probably die of happy with a smile on my face that no mortician could ever eradicate. Just the thought of it makes me hyperventilate a little. Maybe I’d need the oxygen from the previous party.
Party the Fourth: Teh World-Changers
Malala Yousafzai impresses the absolute hell out of me, and her cause (making education available for all girls/women) is arguably one of the most important causes in the world. The Gateses, Musk, and Carter are accomplishing amazing good in the world. You may or may not agree with any of their politics (or religious views), but it’s hard to argue against their collective net positive effect on the world.
And, frankly, any group of world-changers without Fred Rogers would be woefully incomplete. He may not have literally saved the lives of millions of people or negotiated with world leaders or used his billions of dollars helping humanity, but his simple message of “You are worthy just as you are” goes very quietly right along with what the others are doing. Teresa Heinz Kerry (wife of John Kerry) said of Mr. Rogers, “He never condescended, just invited us into his conversation. He spoke to us as the people we were, not as the people others wished we were.” And that was his magic.
So these are my “dream teams” as it were. I only included seven people, total, who are not living, and those all died relatively recently. The rest are contemporaries. No historical people like Shakespeare or Leonardo da Vinci or Billie Holiday. Don’t get me wrong: those people are great. I just want people who could relate to the current state of the world.
People who know me won’t be at all surprised by the first three, but might raise an eyebrow at the last one. Good. I like surprising people who think they know me. :)
I could easily add several more themed parties.
A lot of people who know me might be surprised that there is no ‘authors’ group in there. There’s a simple reason for that: I literally have a plethora of interesting, intelligent, talented authors around me so often, there is no way I could limit it to merely six.
Who’s on your dream team(s)? What six people, living or dead, would you invite to a dinner party/-ies?
- Disaster is one guest that’s never on my list.
- It’s a pun! On two very different meanings of the word ‘lay’! . . . Trust me, it’s extremely funny.
- The story is here. It’s worth reading. Search for “I had this idea” and read. Or, you can listen to NPR’s Radio Lab’s interview with Ann Druyan about the EEG here. About seven and a half minutes.
- He has so many oars in the water, I couldn’t find just one website for him, so I linked his Wiki page with links to all his endeavors.
There’s this meme going around where people are encouraged to list the ten books that changed their life.
Well, a friend of mine (Terra LeMay) decided to change it to “ten pieces of fiction” because short stories, novelettes, novellas, flash, drabbles, etc. can also be transformative.
My problem is, I simply can’t limit it to ten. On my list of novels, alone, it comes to thirteen. With five more short stories.
So I decided to just toss out the rules and do it my own way. So here is the quasi-meme, “Ten or More Pieces of Fiction That Changed My Life.” With the life-changingness interpreted rather liberally. And in no certain order.
- It by Stephen King (1987)
This was the first book I literally stayed up all night to read (18 straight hours) because I literally could not put the thing down. Literally. It was super-glued to my hand. (OK, not literally.)
I had never seen the story-telling technique he used in this book where each alternate chapter was set in either the present or twenty-seven years in the past, when all the characters were children. And the chapters were from alternating POVs as well. I learned a lot about that type of story-telling from this book.
- The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis (1950)
I don’t list all seven of The Chronicles of Narnia or count all of them as a unit because it was reading that first one that made me want to live in a fictional world and have the story never, ever end. It was one of three books that lit the spark of writing in me.
As an aside, I still want to live in Narnia.
- 1984 by George Orwell (1950)
I was well into my adult years when I first read this, even though I was already very into dystopias. I was blown away by it. My mother got to gleefully say her “I told you so”s because she kept trying to get me to read it as a teenager, but it was Old™ and therefore Not Worth My Time™
Irony Alert: take a look at the publication dates on most of these books. I’m just sayin’. :)
Winston is a very good unreliable narrator, too, which adds a nice touch.
- Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (1932)
Pretty much the same thing. I read it way later in life than I should have, but it’s one of those books I re-read periodically because it’s just so wonderful.
It makes the list because of how well it holds up for something written so long ago.
- The Shining by Stephen King (1977)
This was the very first “adult” book I read. I was in the sixth grade (age 12) and the book had just come out earlier that year. A friend in my class had read it and made it sound deliciously frightening. Up until this time, all the “horror” books I had read purported to be True™ or Based on Actual Events™. (I was heavily into ghost stories and aliens and Bigfoot and the like.)
I got it from the Eutaw Library because I was pretty sure there was no way my mother would let me buy it if she knew what it was about. Shhh! Don’t tell her. :)
I still get chills when I think about the scene where the topiary animals are chasing Danny Torrence.
- The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien (1937)
What can I say about this book that hasn’t already been said? It got me interested in epic fantasy, fat books with a lot of pages, and conlangs (constructed languages and alphabets). (I guess those things have been said, but I repeated them anyway. Because I’m a rebel!)
- The Trouble with Jenny’s Ear by Oliver Butterworth (1960)
This one requires a bit of explanation. I read it in either fifth or sixth grade as part of my teacher’s Individualized Reading program. We would read books from her carefully selected classroom library and then take an oral test on it to prove we’d actually read it. We’d get points based on our knowledge and the reading level of the book. We had to read a certain number of points for each six-week period of the school year.
While I was reading this book, I was relentlessly harassed by the other boys in the class for reading a girl’s book. But it was good, and I didn’t care, and I finished it and enjoyed it, and got my points. I guess it taught me that just because a book is aimed at a target audience doesn’t mean others won’t or can’t enjoy it, too.
- Storm Front by Jim Butcher (2000)
I read a selection of a story I had just started writing in my newly joined critique group. Someone told me that my story and the style I wrote in reminded them of The Dresden Files‘ author Jim Butcher. I’d never heard of him or the series, so I picked up the first book and started reading. It introduced me to the entire genre which I’m now hopelessly in love with: urban fantasy.
And also, I want to be him when I grow up. That there’s already a him and that he’s younger than me are irrelevant.
- A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (1973)
Another book written “for” girls but which I enjoyed immensely. Introduced me to tesseracts and was one of three books that lit the spark of writing in me.
- The Old Powder Line by Richard Parker (1974)
Also read as part of my teacher’s Individualized Reading program, I think it was the first book I had read where time travel was a major component of the story, and it dealt with sticky issues like what happens if you go back in time to before you were born.
- Dixie North by Herbert Burton (1976)
This one also requires a bit of background. My mother used to be the director of several things (over time) in the Hale County, Alabama education system. Sometimes, this led to her getting book samples. Sometimes, she brought these home to me. Sometimes, I actually read them. This may have been the first piece of fiction I read entirely voluntarily for pleasure. Plus, it was written by an author from Alabama. Who knew that famous writer-type-people could be from Alabama? It’s also one of the books actually aimed at boys, which is probably why I read it in fifth grade, just after it was published.
- Below the Root by Zilpha Keatley Snyder (1975)
To this day, this remains one of the pieces of fiction that my mind goes back to, randomly, from time to time. Such a wonderful story set in an imaginative world. Science fiction, probably mostly for girls, but we come back to that whole ‘audience’ thing.
One of the three books that lit the spark of writing in me.
- The Demu Trilogy by F. M. Busby (1984)
Once more, this requires just a small amount of background. I used to make lists of books for Christmas and birthdays that my parents would distribute to people who wanted to get me something I’d actually use. But this one time, my mother just happened to be walking through a book store, saw this book cover with a cool spaceship and alien worlds on the cover and thought, “I’ll bet Gary would like that,” so she got it. I was in college by this point. I read it . . . and it blew my mind. I’ve read it over and over. It’s just so wonderful. It’s an omnibus collection of three novels and two(?) novellas that ‘fill in the gaps’ between the novels. The ideas presented in this book are just . . . my head just . . . I have no words.
And here are the short stories.
- “There Will Come Soft Rains” by Ray Bradbury (Colliers, May 6, 1950)
- “The Veldt” by Ray Bradbury (The Saturday Evening Post, September 23, 1950 as “The World the Children Made”)
- “All Summer in a Day” by Ray Bradbury (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, March, 1954)
- “The Cold Equations” by Tom Godwin (Astounding Magazine, 1954)
- “Dark They Were, and Golden-Eyed” by Ray Bradbury (Thrilling Wonder Stories, 1949, as “The Naming of Names”)
Each of those stories was mind-blowing to me. I read most of them while I was in middle school. They were in my Literature textbook (I believe), and like most kids that age, I read the entire book before school started.
What? You mean most people didn’t do that? What was wrong with them?
Anyway, the stories all stuck with me for years after I read them. I didn’t remember their names or the authors, but was able to find them later by asking a lot of questions online and running across them in anthologies and the like. Now, I’d just Google ’em, but at the time, there was no Google! I know! How did we live?
Anyway, I hope that didn’t bore you too much. If nothing else, it gave me a nice distraction from a frustrating day of debugging code that should work but refuses to. Because it’s clearly sentient and hates me.