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The Duchess Who Wouldn't Sit Down


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About the Author

Jesse Browner was born and lives in New York City. He is the author of two novels, Conglomeros and Turnaway, and has translated works by Cocteau, Rilke, Eluard, and others.


Like an artfully served canap?, Browner's brief exploration of hospitality may seem light, but has a rich, lingering flavor. He works backward through time, beginning with Adolf Hitler's quirky type of hospitality at his retreat, at which every guest room had a copy of Mein Kampf and French pornography books on the bedside table. From there, novelist Browner (Conglomeros; Turnaway) wanders into the realm of Gertrude Stein, John James Audubon and Louis XIV, whose court witnessed the humiliation of a duchess who wouldn't sit because she was offered a stool instead of a chair. The book also explores Rome's Julio-Claudian dynasty and the rough days of Agamemnon's army. Browner plumbs these historical periods for hospitality anecdotes and finds some pearls, proving the host-and-guest relationship has never been particularly carefree. While directing the conversation, Browner proves an excellent host himself, throwing out delicious bons mots and peppering the work with personal details. Excursions into his daughter's teddy bear teas and his own propensity for weakening his poker buddies' resolve with homemade sandwiches give the book a sense of coherence and smooth charm. By the time he devotes an entire chapter to his family's Thanksgiving dinner, it's easy to see how his analysis of hospitality through the ages has shaped the event. He writes, "When I am a good host, I can order the world precisely as I believe it ought to be." It's no effort to delight in the fact that Browner is also a good storyteller, and the way he orders the world here is an invitation worth answering. (Oct. 1) Forecast: Browner's book has the quirky appeal to land it the book review sections of culinary and travel magazines, aided by blurbs from New York restaurateur Danny Meyer and Oxford Companion to Food author Alan Davidson. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

"Like an artfully served canap, Browner''s brief exploration of hospitality may seem light but has a rich, lingering flavor...An invitation worth answering."

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