Looks like Hello Goodbye Hello by Craig Brown is going to be a must-read. The Kindle edition is available tomorrow. Sub-titled A Circle of 101 Remarkable Meetings, the NY Times review notes, “One of the stranger conceits of “Hello Goodbye Hello” is that it describes 101 meetings and expends exactly 1,001 words on each one, resulting in a work that is 101,101 words long.”
No, don’t go to sleep. Read on, please:
According to the captivating new book “Hello Goodbye Hello” Alexander Woollcott, the writer and Algonquin Circle wit, loved to play a game called Strange Bedfellows. One of his biggest coups took place at a Cap d’Antibes villa in the summer of 1928 when he succeeded in bringing together Harpo Marx and George Bernard Shaw (“corned beef and roses,” as he called them) at lunch. The two hit it off, and later that week Harpo drove Shaw to Cannes, where a friend of Shaw’s cast them as extras in a movie; a scene featuring them playing billiards, alas, would be left on the cutting-room floor.
Mr. Brown also tells us how Tolstoy met Tchaikovsky, who met Rachmaninoff, who had a musical duel with Harpo Marx at the Garden of Allah hotel in Los Angeles: annoyed by his neighbor’s piano playing, Harpo took out his harp and began playing the first four bars of Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in C sharp minor over and over again for two hours, until he succeeded in driving the composer to another bungalow.
No, it’s not only tales of Harpo Marx (though that in itself would make for a wonderful book I’m sure).
Of the historic meeting of James Joyce and Marcel Proust at a Paris dinner party (also attended by Stravinsky and Picasso) Mr. Brown notes that Joyce arrived after coffee, “drunk and shabby, swaying from side to side.” Proust, he reports, arrived at 2:30 a.m., looking, as one dinner guest recalled, “as though he had seen a light in a friend’s window and had just come up on the chance of finding him awake.”
As Mr. Brown tells it, there are at least seven versions of what transpired between the two writers. In one version they discuss their various illnesses. In another Proust asks “Do you like truffles?” and Joyce replies, “Yes, I do.” In a third Joyce recalls: “Our talk consisted solely of the word ‘No.’ Proust asked me if I knew the duc de so-and-so. I said, ‘No.’ Our hostess asked Proust if he had read such and such a piece of ‘Ulysses.’ Proust said, ‘No.’ And so on. Of course the situation was impossible. Proust’s day was just beginning. Mine was at an end.”