I must confess to being something of an Isaac Asimov fan. As far as I'm concerned, no writer has contributed more quality work to the literary world than he, and I had thought myself fairly well-read in his works.
Until, that is, my wife brought home a copy of Banquets of the Black Widowers for me the other day. I had never heard of this book - unsurprising considering Asimov's over four hundred books in print - but had also never heard of the series.
The Black Widowers series, which number six volumes - Tales, More Tales, The Casebook, Banquets, Puzzles, and The Return - spin short stories of a group of six friends who hold monthly dinners at New York's Milano restaurant.
Each month, one member, excluding the esteemed and peerless waiter, Henry, serves a turn as host, wherein they are required to bring a guest. The guest is, in return for the sumptuous free meal, required to submit to questioning by the members. Each question session starts with a demand that the guest justify his - and Asimov shows great insight by making this group just chauvinistic enough to exclude women from the meetings - existence. Not an easy question to answer. Try it for yourself.
Each guest then, under questioning, reveals a puzzle that has been taxing him - even if he did not know it - and the Widowers solve it for him.
Actually, it's almost always Henry that solves it, but he diplomatically allows the other members a shot first.
Banquets is a fascinating read, even more so because Asimov had to come up with the puzzles as well as the solutions, and represents, in this blogger's opinion, the man's unrivalled genius at its peak.
And, with a birthday coming up, I think I know what to ask for...