Book review: Wining and Dining – The Sediment Guide to Wine and the Dinner-Party
I always knew I never really liked dinner parties. I spent years believing I should love them, try to host and attend as many as I could, but there was always something tedious about them. Except I could never quite figure out why.
On the face of it, I should love everything about dinner party. I like food. I like wine. I like socialising. So why then would a combination of the three be so detestable in my mind?
Well, I see dinner parties simply as a catalyst for unbridled wine drinking, so why complicate things by adding the ‘dinner’ and ‘party’ elements to it? Eating and drinking is good. But eating, drinking and socialising all at once is quite the chore.
Then there is the thought of cooking ALL of that food for ALL of those people and then cleaning ALL of it up afterward.
Yet deep inside me is a burning desire to have people over and serve them food, no matter how tedious.
It all made sense after I read the e-book Wining and Dining – The Sediment Guide to Wine and the Dinner-Party. Written as a collection of eight short essays, this book is brisk, entertaining read that you’re likely to finish in a single sitting. And when you get to the end of it, you’ll be demanding more.
If the book could be summed up in a single quote from its contents, it could very well be this:
“Among the middle classes, the desire to give dinner parties arrives four years after the onset of puberty and departs shortly before your fiftieth birthday. And most dinner parties are terrible.”
In my life I have attended or hosted a few of these gatherings often enough to be able to relate to the words written by PK and CJ, the two minds behind the Sediment Blog.
I’ve been the perfect guest and the perfect host. And I’ve also been the terrible guest and the terrible (and very likely offensive) host. Yet no matter how good or bad I’ve behaved, the only things I can ever really remember is whether I had fun and whether or not I got drunk and said something I shouldn’t have. I also often remember if the wine was any good.
As CJ and PK write, the food itself need not be good or bad; if the company is up to snuff (and the wine at least drinkable), a dinner party is a success. The pork can be tough as leather soles, but it doesn’t matter; memories of bad food wear off quicker than most hangovers.
Not that I am ever the perfect guest – or even host – for that matter. A few years back I very possibly set the bar for worst host at any dinner party I’ve experienced.
I had turned a blind eye to the boxed wine and the bottom-shelf supermarket bottles that came under the guests’ arms on the night. But it was the man who arrived after the dinner with a curry take-away who sent me over the edge.
It all went very wrong when he said a few things that rubbed me the wrong way. Suddenly there I was telling him from across the dinner table to fuck off for one reason or another. Needless to say the party didn’t quite regain its jovial spirit from that moment onward.
It may seem unfair for me to prattle on about my own dinner party experiences when what I’m really supposed to be doing is reviewing the Sediment Guide to Wine and the Dinner-Party, but my hope here is that the enthusiastic way in which I share my own dinner party mishaps will give you a sense of what to expect in this book.
The way I see it, it has three great things going for it. First, it is short, snappy and easy to read without being written for a nine-year-old. Second, it says what we’ve all been thinking but didn’t think anyone could actually publish. Do we care if the food was good or bad? Do we care if all of the wine was good or bad? No, we just care if we have a good time and everyone leaves happy – and with any luck merrily sozzled.
Third, it doesn’t drone on too long about a topic that really doesn’t need a whole lot of explaining. Eight witty essays and no more. Had Julia Child written it, it would consist of two volumes at 1,000 pages each.
Sure, it has its negative points. If you don’t believe dinner parties are about getting a little bit drunk, for example, you might not like the editorial slant in this book.
And if you think dinner parties are all about arranging people in the right place, making sure the food is perfect and stressing about this or that, the authors’ fatalistic attitude toward dinner parties might not fill you with satisfaction. Which would be too bad, because these are the people who need this guide the most.
**** (Four stars)