Author: Dorothy Draper
Publication info: non-fiction, published by Rizzoli International Publications, New York: 2204
Original publication: published by Doubleday, Doran & Company, Inc., New York: 1941
My rating (out of five stars): * * * * *
If you've never read one of Dorothy Draper's books, you should. You really should. Go ahead and go get one right now, preferably the one I'm reviewing right now. I can wait.
Okay! Now that you're back, isn't this book just too adorable, with its polka dots and red-edged pages and the retro-forties fonts and artwork? Just looking at is fun, but wait 'til you start reading.
By all accounts, Dorothy Draper was, in our common parlance, FAB-u-lous! I mean, the woman did the interior design for Chicago's famous Drake Hotel, as well as the Beverly Hills Hotel. And the Duke and Duchess of Windsor were personal clients. Plus, I can attest to the fact that she writes a very entertaining book, and when the book happens to be about entertainment, how awesome is that? As I sat here pondering things, I realized that this book is the exact inverse of a mortician's writing a deathly dull book on his trade. Deep? Oh, don't you know it.
Mrs. Draper has the knack of writing as if she's writing a chatty letter just to you. I felt that she'd taken my measure and found me wanting on page five when she severely said to me: "In recent years, we've all heard a great deal about the Will to Fail, which sometimes is even more urgent than the Will to Succeed. The will to Fail isn't the only enemy most of us have to guard against. There is also the Will to be Dreary. It's a morose little imp which whispers to use that something which we know would be fuin would be too much trouble, will take too much time, will be too expensive and probably wouldn't be as amusing after all as just now you think it would be."
Does she know me, or what? Because I am a great big lump of dreariness just sitting here on my desk chair; a person so dreary that I didn't even want to invite my own fourteen-year-old nephew over to the house until we could get some decent food in it so that he wouldn't go home and tell my brother and sister-in-law, "Going to Aunt Shelley's is okay, I guess, but all I had to eat all day long was a hot dog that was all weird and dried up at one end where someone left the package open and a spoonful of chocolate syrup."
And we've owed several people -- some of whom are probably reading this blog and wondering what kind of manners I was raised with -- a return dinner for a good long while, yet that old Will to be Dreary keeps flicking through the list of all the things I know how to cook and saying in a dull voice, "No, they'll hate that....no, they'll hate that....no, I hate that.....no, they'll hate that..."
Because this book was originally written in 1941, there are some unintentionally hilarious bits that made me giggle. For instance, Mrs. Draper, in outlining all the details that make a simple dinner party perfect, included this gem on her list: "Place cigarettes, ashtrays and matches between every two plates."
Can you imagine? My gosh, people must have been smoking like chimneys for every two people to require ashtrays, matches and....and....coffin nails! I am trying to imagine what Gary and Katie would do if we ever....*ahem*....returned the favor on the delicious meal they served us, oh, about a year ago, if they sat down at our dining room table and saw a packet of cigarettes, matches and an ashtray cozied up next to their bread plates. In spite of the fact that the ladies at Mom's Night Out often get a celebratory beer or margarita, we are all a rather strait-laced group, my friends and I, and I think if I were going to follow Mrs. Draper's instructions, I'd have to substitute a small bottle of soap bubbles and a bubble wand for the cigarettes.
Another thing that tickled me was Mrs. Draper's earnest entreaty to weekend hosts to be sure they're there at the house, ready to throw the front door open in welcome to greet their guests. "Can there be anything more dreary than to arrive to stay several days at a house where there is only a bored-looking servant to receive you (and not one who has been taught to smile)?"
At our house, weekend guests have been greeted in anything but a dreary manner, with the front door crashing open and two dogs bursting therefrom in a maelstrom of fur and tongues and tails, all with me exasperatedly yelling, "Down! I said get down! You are bad, bad dogs! Go to your beds!" and diving in among them with a rolled-up copy of Woman's Day, thrashing and whacking and knocking our guest down the steps into the street.
The next funny bit came later in the book when Mrs. Draper was explaining how a certain New York City bachelorette got a reputation for sophistication, even though she lived at a swanky women's residential club where she could not entertain, by taking all her guests to a small French restaurant down the street from her club. The proprietor of the restaurant, Mrs. Draper relates, was pleased to decorate "Miss A's" festive table in the manner of her choosing, which meant a red-and-white checked tablecloth, crusty bread in a little basket, and aself-conciously twee sounding flower arrangement.
Miss A's menu was always the same, ordered in advance of the dinner party: the restaurant's soup du jour for the first course; Coquilles St. Jacques for the fish course; a broiled chicken served with a salad of mixed greens, all served with her favorite wine. For dessert, there was always a plate of ripe pears accompanied by a selection of cheeses and cups of bitter, scalding black coffee.
This lovely meal, says Mrs. Draper, was simple and inexpensive while also being elegant. At 85 cents per person, plus one dollar extra per person for the wine, you can just hardly beat it for a sophisticated yet carefree way to entertain.
Isn't that just delicious? Can you imagine being able to have Coquilles St. Jacques -- that you didn't even have to prepare and cook -- and all the rest of that for $1.85 per person?
I absolutely loved this cheerful book with its somewhat wistful memories of an era long past and more innocent. There was still a lot to learn from it, however, even though I'm hardly likely to convert an unused carriage house into a playhouse for entertaining guests by the fireplace that my husband and I could build together while our maid handed 'round a bowl of rosy apples and we toasted bread on long forks to serve with anchovy paste I'd whipped up in the main house.
It was a very fun read, and if you like entertaining and cooking food for company, you'll be sure to enjoy this book.