Literary Dinner | Circe

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We honestly feel like we chose the perfect buddy read to take us into fall when we picked up Circe by Madeline Miller. This retelling of Greek myth takes us with our heroine Circe to an island full of wild herbs, carefully tended gardens and forests bursting with flora. To honor her island of Aiaia we set up a simple picnic table out in the sunshine underneath a pear tree, against a backdrop of woods, so we could have lunch and soak up the mild afternoon while we talked about the novel.

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But in a solitary life, there are rare moments when another soul dips near yours, as stars once a year brush the earth. Such a constellation was he to me.
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Layers of freshly cut rosemary were studded with the first of the fall berries, and a few fresh blooms were tucked into the fragrant, spiky riot. We love that the rosemary looks a little prickly, but smells so good, especially when it was all piled on the tabletop. Plus, it’s an herb used since ancient times by the Greeks, and seemed the perfect choice to represent the facets of Circe; a little prickly, a little sweet, and quietly powerful.

We primarily used roses for our flowers, both in our tiny bud vases and in the centerpiece, because they were mentioned repeatedly, and because their orangey blush color really suited our early fall color palette. The centerpiece was a glass terrarium stuffed with a spray of cut greenery and roses all set atop a sunburst mirror to reflect (hah!) Circe’s father, Helios. Plates were cut crystal with dipped gold rims, and we finished our place settings with crystal goblets and gold napkins and cutlery. We wanted an opulent, mystical, ancient, natural feel all wrapped up together, and mixing our elements this way worked out really well. It ended up feeling understated, but gilded, just like Circe herself.

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Once the table was set, the laden boughs of the pear tree arched perfectly over our simple place settings, and all that was left was to bring out the food. Sticking to a mediterranean flavor profile, we designed a charcuterie board piled with hummus, marinated vegetables, dishes of olives, flatbreads, grapes, meats, hard cheeses, and creamy balls of fresh mozzarella. In the novel, Circe sets up long tables in her house and serves similar fare to visiting sailors, with plenty of wine, of course. Capturing that atmosphere with the food at our own long wooden table felt so right.

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Settling in with an array of snacks and goblets full of wine to discuss the book was the best part, of course (it always is!). We easily spend an hour trading insights, picking apart scenes, and weighing outside criticisms with our own opinions when we talk books. Part of how we prepare our discussions is to pay attention to other reviews to see what other people are generally saying about the novel, and then deciding what we agree and disagree with.

With Circe, one of the biggest criticisms we saw was that the novel lacked any “fireworks” from Circe herself, that she didn’t adequately own and display her powers to any real effect. We both disagree. Circe used her powers to defy the gods quietly, and to only please herself. Some elaborate action scene would feel untrue to the character Miller built for us, since Circe is very strong, but intentionally not flashy. What did you think?

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With the afternoon wearing on, it was eventually time to wrap it up and exit the dreamy space we had built and enjoyed for the past few hours. These little private book clubs are always worth the extra effort. Existing in such an atmospheric space while we hold our book discussions really lets us live the books in a way nothing else does. Until next time, friends!

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