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Be My Guest

By Anna Dantoni –

Russell Lynes, the author of Guests, was the son of a minister who learned about hosting from his parents who were forever entertaining diverse elements in their big New England Queen-Anne-style rectory. Lynes was born in 1910 and died in 1991. His gimlet-eye views on party giving and party going are admittedly are not up-to-the-minute. But as the author of Snobs, The Tastemakers and several other humorous publications about social interactions, he had a definite view and people today people read Lynes both for his pithy style and his wry rules when it comes to being a good guest and an effective host. Guests, was first published in hardcover in 1951 and it still has a following.

In this fast-moving, hook-up age of Twitter, Facebook, and modern homeowners who believe a viable party involves letting people watch you cook, there ought to be room for a few old fashioned guidelines. When faced with attending a party or organizing one, what separates social beings from hermits is being able to rely on a few rules for moving things along in a way that promotes conviviality, traffic control and maybe even genuine friendship.

Lynes begins his short (79 pages in paperback with big type) guidebook with pessimism, “Guests in the house have always seemed to me to present an opportunity for imminent catastrophe,” but he swiftly advances to practical
strategies that deal with guests who stay too long, don’t mix, or who are boring. I like his advice for success at a cocktail party. “Never sit down on the sofa,” because you will invariably be trapped by a bore and your evening will be ruined. Move around the room, talk to as many people as possible, rehearse an exit line, pray for a good bar.

How about guests who come for the weekend? Lynes believes it’s good to plan a loose itinerary for them and be prepared to loan them your car. Otherwise, spend lots of time going places with them and inventing amusements at home. What about food?

“What does a hostess do about those guests who insist that she just leave a pot of coffee on the stove and they’ll have a cup whenever they get up?” Lynes asks. “They don’t mean if of course; what they really want is a full breakfast at the moment when they have drained away the last bit of sleep, whether it is at nine or eleven-thirty.”

Reading Russell Lynes won’t solve your problems concerning hosting or guesting, but his little book will insure that you don’t take these social obligations too seriously. He means for you to laugh and he conjures up domestic scenes that make sure you do just that.

The author sums up the essence of what we all should strive for when inviting people over for an evening or when we are among those invited: “The chemistry of true hospitality,” says Lynes, “is compounded of convenience, comfort, congeniality and conversation.” We all need to do our parts to make the evening work. If you don’t have the commitment, stay home and read a good book.

(Guests by Russell Lynes, Harper, paperback, $10)

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