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The Hostess with the Mostest

December 20, 2012 By Lynn Rosen
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My dear friend Sharon (hi Sharon!) likes to (lovingly, of course) remind me now and then: “It’s not all about you, Lynn!” Yet, in thinking over what to write about today, it occurred to me: “hey, I haven’t written about myself yet!” So today, Sharon, it’s all about me!

For years I worked as a book editor and a literary agent in New York, working with countless authors helping them uncover the book that was buried inside them, and helping them carefully hone their topics. With each idea I helped someone develop, often the author would ask me: “when are you going to write a book?” I said I’d write a book when I found a topic that grabbed me. 

That day did arrive eventually and, much to my surprise, the topic I that grabbed me enough to keep it for myself was table setting. I blame my mother (who better?) and all those years of tortured table setting in which forks, knives and spoons all were required to be set up in military formation, and all condiments were required to be removed from their original containers and transferred to proper serving pieces (the better to make cleanup into yet another torture session, or so my teenaged self assumed). Once I had my own home, however, I found that the etiquette Mom taught me had stuck, and I’m now busy enforcing it on the next generation. 

A few years ago, I published “Elements of the Table: A Simple Guide for Hosts and Guests” with Clarkson Potter, which allowed me to explore my interest in table setting and in the history of dining. There are reasons all those pieces of tableware go where they go, and it turns out the reasons are quite interesting. Did you know, for example, that napkin rings were invented not for decorative reasons, but because, in the pre-washing machine era, no one washed those clothe napkins very often. By putting it in your own napkin ring after a meal, you at least ensured you’d get the same dirty napkin at the next meal, not that of another diner!

Although I have no aspiration to be the next Emily Post, I’m quite proud of my book. I did a lot of research to write it and the result is, I think, a nice mix of useful advice to ensure you don’t make a fool of yourself at the table, and interesting historical dining trivia. The book looks beautiful, too. The designers, Laura Palese and Danielle Deschenes of Clarkson Potter, and the photographers, my dear friend Patrick Snook and Walter Rosen (thanks, Dad!) did great work as well with all that lovely china, silver and crystal I borrowed from Havilland, Orrefors and Reed & Barton (and had to give back, alas!).

 

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