Feed Your Mind: Modris Eksteins

hilary-weston-writers-trust-80.jpgTo celebrate the Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction shortlist, we've teamed up with the Writers' Trust and Loblaws to bring you the Feed Your Mind contest. We've been asking readers which nonfiction writer they'd most like to dine with, what they'd serve and what they'd ask them.

The shortlisted authors have gotten in on the fun as well! Here is what Modris Eksteins, author of Solar Dance, had to say:

If you could invite any memoirist, non-fiction writer, or biographer (living or dead) to dinner..

1) Who would it be?

modris-200-189.jpgI'd invite Paul Fussell, who died last May and whose brilliant Great War and Modern Memory is one of the landmark books of the last century. I've always been in awe of it. He visited Toronto several times, once to give the Alexander Lectures at University College, and a few years later for a Donner Foundation lecture. On the latter occasion, in October 1999, we met up to spend the afternoon together. It was a glorious fall day, so I suggested that we -- his second wife Harriette Behringer was with him -- drive out to Kleinburg to the McMichael Gallery to have a look at our Group of Seven painters. Distinguished literary critic of the modern, he would, I assumed, be interested in seeing the work of our most celebrated visual modernists in a vivid autumn setting. We had been at the gallery for only a few minutes and had passed through two rooms when he turned to me and, as if addressing his platoon on the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, said gruffly: "OK, where's the gift shop? I think we've seen it all."

2) What would you serve them?

I'd invite Betty, his first wife, to join us, she of cookbook fame. She has written a stunningly readable, though acerbic, memoir, My Kitchen Wars, to go alongside his gentler self-portrait, Doing Battle. I'd whisk them off to our cabin in the Quebec woods and, in honour of the Group of Seven, serve them fresh walleye fillets, wrapped in leeks and bacon, topped with a maple syrup, mustard, and cream sauce.  

3) What would you want to ask them? 

Of him: Betty says you are an art lover. What happened that day in Kleinburg? Of her: Why, at a point in your marriage to Paul, did you decide to sleep with a kitchen cleaver under your pillow? Of both: Nietzsche said that history is just another form of autobiography. Memoirs, in turn, are often said to be simply a form of fiction. Are any of these timeworn categories valid any longer in our age of sensation and celebrity?


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