Literary Dinner Parties: A How-To Guide

So I'm sure you've all seen our literary dinner parties around here: we obviously love to throw them. Each time we post a new one, we find that we get a lot of comments and questions about it, so we thought we'd explain our basic formula for setting them up. We don't spend a lot of time or money on them, but they are a ton of fun, and we promise they are 100% achievable for anybody!

1. Round up items in your house- The first thing you're going to need to do is think about what items you already have in your home that make sense for the novel. Draw on anything the novel mentions in addition to considering the setting carefully. For a party like The Awakening, there wasn't a ton of food or decor reference, but it was a southern summer at the end of the 19th century, and that gave us a lot to go on. Go through your house and consider your every day objects as well as any special occasion decor you have and ask yourself if they fit the tone/mood/setting of your novel. You'll be surprised at how much will work, I promise! Seriously, 99% of everything we use in our dinner parties are objects we had in our homes to begin with, and so many of them show up again and again because they adapt to many different vibes. Think creatively and outside the box, too! Pull that plant from your windowsill, go through your holiday decor, etc.

2. Pool your resources- If you're close with any of your attendees, ask them if they will rummage through their own homes to bring stuff, too. Rikki has brought me potted plants, scraps of fabric, jars of sand, vintage glass vessels, and even antlers to add to our party decor. Pooling our resources has really allowed us to flesh out our decor without spending a dime. 

3. Shop thrift stores and clearance- If you've sincerely got some gaps, or want something specific for your party, go check out thrift stores and clearance sections of stores like Target, Home Goods, World Market, or wherever it is you like to shop. I've scored some epic deals on items that were PERFECT for my themes. Dollar stores and dollar sections of places like Target can be gold mines, too. Most of my parties, if I buy anything at all, I spend under $10. That red table runner from Game of Thrones? Thrift Store for $2. Those cute napkins from Gatsby? Home Goods clearance for practically nothing. 

4. Use your color printer- Having a solid color printer was game changing for my party throwing. Suddenly I could download and print fun things off of Etsy or from sites that offer them for free (check out Pinterest!), and create interesting, impactful decor with some basic crafting skills. Check out my wall of faces, or my favorite Fitzgerald quote to see what I mean.

5. Identify key spaces in your house to decorate- Decide where your guests will spend most of their time. At your table? In your living room? Outside? Wherever it is, determine which walls, what spaces, and which flat surfaces you want to decorate. Take a good look at how much space you have, and consider vignettes that would make sense in each space. This might mean scooting a table over, adding in some chairs, but nothing too intense. This is about working with what you have and trying to see it with fresh eyes. Maybe you set a framed quote and a vase of flowers on a coffee table, or hang a banner on a key wall, or fully tablescape your dining room table, which brings us to...

6. Create a tablescape- Go back to identifying not only mood/setting etc of your book, but maybe flip back through and see what kinds of key details are mentioned in the text it's self (taking quick notes on your phone while you're reading helps a ton here). The Awakening mentioned yellow and red roses, Gatsby mentioned piles of citrus, Jane Eyre mentions her love of books, Under the Tuscan Sun is full of decor references. Whatever it is for your book, pick some highlights and mix them together with all the objects you gathered up. We generally are fans of fresh flowers, candlelight, and all those relevant objects arranged artfully together. Some sort of base like a placemat, a table runner, or even a tray or platter is usually a good starting point, and then just mix your items until it looks good to your eye. Pay attention to shape and proportion and overall vibe with your finished scene. I've used things like a bunny statue from my personal Easter decor and spare bits of raffia for The Secret Garden to add details from the book onto my table, and little touches like that really make your tablescape feel true to the book.

7. Plan a menu- Again, go back to the text and look for specific food references, or consider the setting and decide what kinds of foods would be appropriate. We had a hard time with Wuthering Heights because all the food mentioned in it was disgusting, so we went with something appropriate for the setting in general vs food specifically mentioned in the text (boiled milk in dirty porridge, anyone?). There are so many resources online or in cookbooks for recipes specifically mentioned in novels, too! We love Cara and Bryton, especially, and have drawn on them for inspiration many times. Don't forget to pair drinks with your menu, whether it be wine, cocktails or non-alcoholic options!

8. Decide if you want a special feature- Maybe you want a signature cocktail, have a game planned, have a discussion format in mind, or even just want to cozy up to watch the movie adapatation. Just dream up any of those extra details that will enhance your dinner. In the past we've done mini-cocktail workshops, watched movies, had formal tea service, and even decorated a cake together at our dinner parties!

You'll see we definitely have a range of how much we decorate, and how much effort we put into our literary dinner parties, but the most important thing is that you're bringing the book to life in a way that feels authentic and meaningful to you, and that you have a lasting memory of your fabulous party tied to that book! 

Would you try out a literary dinner party? Show us by tagging us #therdentbiblioreads or shoot us an e-mail! We'd love to see!