Posts tagged literary events
Interview With A Book Club Organizer | Sari Pabst
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Sari Pabst is the book club organizing extraordinaire and fearless leader behind the book club we attend locally. She has over 8 years of experience organizing various book clubs, and was kind enough to sit down with us to talk about what it’s like running large book clubs for so long (she’s been running our current one for over 3 years!). She shares what works, what doesn’t, what makes for good discussion, book club rules and structure, venue pitfalls, guiding philosophies, book club organizer pet peeves, and advice for anyone who wants to start their own club, or improve the one they already have!


Q: What made you want to start a book club?

A: I found that as an adult it’s really hard to make friends. When I started going to book club, I had just had my baby, and went from working full-time to being a stay at home mom with no other stay-at-home mom friends. So, I joined a book club near my home. They were really great, and after a couple months, the woman organizing it asked me to take over for a while. When she moved to another city, I ended up fully taking over organizing it.

How did you find a venue?

When I was in our previous town, I just picked a coffeehouse with a big table. It wasn’t great though, honestly. You have to account for the fact that anything with coffee is going to have coffee grinders, so sometimes you’d have to yell. And then a lot of the books we read are adult material, so you’re sitting in the middle of, like, Panera Bread, apologizing to the moms with their kids at the next table. We actually read Lolita, and there was a 9 year old girl at the table behind us. So there we are having this big, graphic conversation with sexually provocative things involving children, and it just made it hard.

When I moved down to Tacoma, one of the things I did was to just go and check places out. I knew I wanted to move it to a bar, because I wanted it to be an “over 21” venue. Not because I think people under 21 don’t have anything valuable to add or to say, but because, I have two kids— whom I love, they’re wonderful—but if I’m going out for a night to have adult time, I don’t want to bring my children, and I don’t want other people to bring theirs either. I don’t want anyone to have to censor what they’re saying or how they’re feeling because there’s a 7 year old in the room. So for me, I was very specific in wanting an age limit on not just our book club, but on who could be in our immediate area.

Plus, moving into a location that was adults only, and to a time that was a little later in the evening made it so that a diverse amount of people could come, because now people could come after work. It’s appealing to come chill and have a drink with friends; it just makes for a much more casual environment. Then I just picked a space like that, one that would let me borrow a room once a month. They’re wonderful, they always let me have the room, and always make sure other patrons are clear from the space if we need it. It’s our home now

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How did you pick a day and time?

We have a core group of people who have hung in there with me for years and years, so I picked a day that worked for them as well as with my schedule and my co-organizer’s schedule, because it was important to me that the core group could have what they wanted. As long as it’s on the same day of the week, most people’s schedules are pretty set, so we just picked what worked best and we’ve stuck with it.

Has keeping it 21+ affected the dynamic of the group?

We have a really interesting demographic. I’m in my mid-30’s, and we have a few people who are in their 40’s and 50’s, then we have a bunch of people who in their mid 30’s or 40’s who don’t come as regularly, and then we have a ton of people in their 20’s. It’s this really interesting range of people. There are months that I come and I’m the only person in the room who has children. So my perspective may be incredibly opposite than the person sitting across from me who just graduated from college, or the person who’s kids have already left home. I love when you get to see different perspectives, especially now that more men have started to come. Having it at our location, it’s gender neutral, and set at a time when professionals can come after work, or stay at home moms can come when their husbands get off work; it’s really opened us up to more interesting discussions.

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You have a pretty large group, right? How do you manage a group that size?

Yeah! We have almost 1,400 followers on Meetup and we regularly have about 20 people show up. I was really overwhelmed when I first moved it to Tacoma, because in our previous location, the largest group I’d had was maybe 17. It’s kind of a trendy thing now in our area to mix alcohol and books, but it definitely wasn’t when we started. I was a little bit overwhelmed, and my voice doesn’t really carry very well, so at first it was little bit of a free-for-all. One of the things that helped me the most was physically standing in front of the group to have command of the room. Which sounds weird, because I’m not actually somebody who likes having all the attention on her, but if I don’t it just becomes complete chaos, with different sections having different conversations and nobody really paying attention.

If I'm actually standing, it gives the room someone to focus on, so it’s almost like passing the baton when I call on somebody, and gives everyone a chance to be heard. Sometimes there will be a great dialogue, like two people will get really heated about a topic, and I’m not going to cut that off if they’re going back and forth. If someone raises their hand to interject, I can be like “hey guys, they’ve wanted to comment on your discussion for a minute, let’s hear what they have to say,” and that will bring it all back around.

What do you think keeps people coming back to this group?

I hope that it’s that we’re creating a fun, healthy environment for people to get to know each other!


Do you intentionally structure your discussions?

Depending on what the novel is, I look up discussion questions, see what’s been popular in other book clubs, but actually my favorite is when the author has given discussion questions in the back of the book or on their website. There are also questions I’ll ask every single time. The first thing I ask as we start is “who has read the book?” and sometimes it’s just one or two people, which is totally fine. The next question is always “who liked the book and who didn’t?” because I’m very aware that I usually have the opposite opinion of the group, and it gives everyone a chance to see where people stand. Plus, just knowing who felt the same as you and who felt the opposite of you is a discussion point. Like, well, what did you like about it?

Also, even if I really loved a book, I’m probably going to have to act like I hate it if everyone else loved it too, just so I can be that opposition. My job when I show up to book club is to make a discussion happen and to keep it going. Sometimes it’s really easy, but of course, sometimes it’s really hard. We’ve only ever had one book that had a discussion that lasted under an hour. 

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What was the worst discussion you’ve ever had?

Good Omens. We’ve done all kinds of books, and usually there’s some kind of hidden nugget you can pull on to really get everybody going and there was such satire, and such slapstick comedy in that book, but there wasn’t enough depth to have any feelings about it. Most of the group felt the same, and it was just really hard to create a discussion off of one-liners.


Why did you choose Meetup to advertise the group?

Mostly because that’s originally how I found the book club. Six years ago, members suggested we move it to Facebook, but what happened was we went from having 15-17 people come, to having maybe 6-8 people coming, because it just wasn’t getting out there. Also, it just lost something. I love when new people come and offer fresh perspectives, versus when it’s just the same people, you kind of already know what they’re going to say, and who’s going to like or not like the book. When I moved and re-started, I decided to put it back on Meetup because it seemed like the best way for us to get the most exposure, and I genuinely don’t mind paying for the service as long as people are showing up and they’re enjoying it.

As long as it continues to be something I look forward to every month and not something I have to do every month, I’ll keep doing it, because I really appreciate that I have this platform to invite people to come enjoy and discuss books. Also, I think a lot of people really underestimate how difficult it is to put yourself out there. Walking into a room of people full of people you don’t know, it’s scary and it’s hard-- I definitely remember how hard it was for me to walk into my first one. I used this club to make new friends and build community, because I didn’t have it, so I want everyone to feel comfortable walking in. I try to shake each new person’s hand and introduce myself, because I want people to feel welcome, and I do appreciate how hard it is just to walk in the door. 

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What is it about a book that makes it create a good discussion?

Controversy. And it doesn’t even have to be big controversy. One word I can say that will always set somebody off in the room is “sexuality”. It doesn’t matter what we’re talking about, but if I say that word the entire room is going to explode, and there are just little triggers like that. It could be the most tame book in the entire world, but as soon as somebody says a key word, all of a sudden it’s like a bomb went off. So you have to feel the book out, and see what that thing is going to be. Sometimes even just bringing up something I didn’t like will outrage somebody and spark a conversation.

How do you pick what your group will read?

Everyone in the room can bring whatever books they want to recommend, they just have to tell the room what it’s about, and it gets put on the list. We then let people vote for every book mentioned. The first time through, everyone can vote for any book on the list that they’re interested in, and if it’s unanimous, or there is a situation where one book got like 15 votes and the others only got a handful of votes, that’s our book. If two books are close, we do a second round of voting where you can only vote for one book. The reason I do it that way is because I want people to feel like it’s their book club too, instead of it being like “ugh, what is she going to make us read this month.”

I want to read what the group wants to read, and I get to read so many things that never would have been on my radar, so it’s really exciting for me too. Another thing that really worked for us, is that while we used to pick the book two months in advance so that people would have plenty of time to get it from the library or listen to is as an audiobook, we switched to just picking the book for the following month. I realized that people were fighting for the book that they want to read now, and by the time we were actually getting around to that book two months later, nobody actually cared about it any more.

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Do you have any other book club rules?

If you show up, whether you’ve read the book or not, we are going to talk about the end of the book, because it’s not fair that everybody read it and we can’t talk about a part of it because somebody didn’t finish it, even if that person is me.

Is there anything that you, as an organizer, would not have thought about as a member?

I get a lot of messages behind the scenes. One of the most frustrating things for me is when people don’t bother reading the actual event details on Meetup, because I try to make sure that when you click the event listing, all the information is there about what time we meet, where we’re meeting, how to find us…everything. People will inevitably private message me asking the same questions over and over again, and every single month having to answer the exact same questions when you’ve already posted the information, can be really frustrating. I try to be understanding and give a gracious reply, but it’s one of those things, that as a participant, I didn’t realize was so frustrating.

I also get messages from local authors who want us to do their book, as in have us all buy copies of the book. It’s not that I don’t want to support local authors, it’s that I’ve been working on this club for 8 years. It sounds like a really silly thing, but I’ve literally put 8 years of my life into these book clubs to be able to cultivate it to be the way it is, and I care a lot about it. So I get frustrated when I feel like somebody is trying to financially profit off of my hard work, especially when I go out of my way to make sure that there’s no financial hardship on my members. 

Is there any advice you have for people who want to start a book club?

I would say have an idea of what you want it to be. I know that sounds silly, like of course you want to read books, but decide how you want to run it and what you want it to feel like. If you come to my book club, be aware that I curse, and I drink, and I’m a really laid back person who tries to be really open and non-judgmental. It’s easy to take things personally if your space isn’t the right space for someone, but try not to.

Know what you want your group to look like and feel like, and be okay if its not the right fit for someone. I want my group to be people who enjoy being around each other and enjoy coming, and I don’t want someone to have to censor themselves because another person isn’t comfortable with swearing. Be aware of what your goals are, and be okay that you’re not everybody’s cup of tea. Just make sure you don’t take it personally, because I know it’s hard when you put your heart and soul into something, and it feels like a personal rejection, when in reality it’s just…he’s just not that into you.

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Do you have any other questions for Sari?

Meeting Author Anne Bogel
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We first connected with Anne, of Modern Mrs Darcy, a few years ago through Bookstagram. She inspired so much of what we wanted to showcase in our literary lifestyles, and we slowly but surely developed an online friendship from that shared love of reading.

We were fortunate enough to be invited onto her podcast, What Should I Read Next, and threw a couple of dinner parties from her recommendations. We did Persuasion as a brunch, and My Kitchen Year as a dinner, both were excellent!

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You can only imagine our excitement when Anne tells us she added our personal favorite indie bookstore, Browsers, to her book tour in October. The owner, Andrea, was also on the podcast and has become a friend of ours as well. We’ve styled a few of her cookbook book clubs and have loved getting to know her. Book people are simply the best people.

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We had the best time chatting with Anne, and sadly, it had to end all too soon. Honestly, if you don’t already love her just from her online personality, you’re sure to love her in person. We really could have talked endlessly about all things books, parenting, and life in general. It was an excellent experience and I only hope we cross paths with her again!

Literary Dinner | This One Summer
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This One Summer remains, hands down, one of my favorite graphic novels, and I finally convinced Rikki to read it! The story focuses on the friendship of two girls at their annual summer vacation spot as they come of age. The story mixes in family drama, the awkwardness of being on the cusp of the teenage years, friendship, growing pains, and the complexity of inner life. Some panels are heart-stopping in their elegant blending of text and art to create something meaningful. I especially love how the concept of memory was handled, but it captured so many hard to define emotions so, so beautifully. It embodies my favorite moods of bittersweet and nostalgia, and I haven't ever seen this level of layering in a graphic novel, which makes it extra special. Okay, enough gushing. On to the dinner!

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The novel is set at a vaguely rural lake house, and most of the outside scenes are of beaches, family BBQ's, swimming, and the girls walking through the forest. Because the setting is so natural and un-fussy, we simply cut some of Rikki's dappled willow in her yard, stuck the branches in mason jars, and lined them up along the length of the table. We love how they look floral, but aren't.

Also, the collection of pebbles play a big role visually and thematically in the book, so rocks on the table were a must. Candlelight was another must, as many scenes include candles, or outside fires, so we wanted to represent that on the table. Place settings were kept intentionally neutral, highlighted with striped paper napkins to match the aesthetic of the novel. 

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Junk food is central to the novel. The girls visit a convenience store, where a lot of the plot is set in motion, to buy snacks for their horror-movie binging. We played with our usual format of charcuterie boards, but instead of fancy ingredients, used junk food and our favorite camping foods. We honestly love the juxtaposition of the elegant and the fun, and this appetizer board was a hit with our kids. 

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Of course there was wine! All the adults in the novel are pretty much constantly imbibing wine or beer, and we loved the label on this one for our dinner with it's plants and bugs; so fitting. We think a chilled rosé is the perfect summer wine, don't you agree?

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As we discussed the novel, we brought out more fun food. Honoring the recurring BBQ's in the novel and the fact that pizza is a perennial favorite of teens everywhere, we broke out the pizza stone and baked ourselves some deliciousness. Rikki made the pizza dough from scratch, nailed simple sophisticated toppings, and got the perfect amount of bubble and char on the crust. It was just absolutely delicious and fitting. 

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S'mores were specifically focused on in one of my favorite scenes, and so while we were finishing dinner, we got a fire started, then broke out the supplies (and Twizzlers, which are repeatedly mentioned) and toasted some marshmallows. It was my 4.5 year old's first time making them and he was completely delighted. Everyone was relaxed and happy, finishing off drinks, casually chatting, and helping the kids assemble their s'mores. It was truly a perfect reflection of the book's overarching theme of family. 

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It gets dark pretty late around here, but when the sky began to deepen, it also deepened the beauty of our tablescape. It was a fitting end to the night; the dramatic backdrop enhancing the effects of the warmth of good conversation with friends and nostalgic food.

Another beautiful summer night talking books and enjoying good company. These are the days. 

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Literary Dinner | A Christmas Carol

A Christmas Carol was a wonderful seasonal buddy read for us. Short and sweet, and the perfect way to get back into our literary dinners since Rikki's baby arrived. Our reading lives have been up and down the past few months, full of too many good books to choose from, and often choosing family over everything else, as the season demands. This dinner party brought both of our families together and made for a great night of conversation, simple yet delicious fare, and warm, flavorful mulled wine.

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I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the past, present, and the future. - Charles Dickens, Ebenezer Scrooge, A Christmas Carol
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As with many of our dinner parties, we went with a simple meal and set-up; the goal is to enjoy ourselves, not work all night long. Using lots of candles we had on hand, a garland of greenery (Trader Joes's for the win!) and berries cut from the backyard, we laid down a base over a lace piece Rikki had. We then sprinkled in fresh citrus, apples, cinnamon sticks, and chestnuts, which were all mentioned in the novella, and stuck a candelabra in the center.

It ended up feeling SO warm and inviting! Everyone was kind of lingering near it, because it was so pretty and cozy. The place settings were just Rikki's dishes and silverware mixed with some napkins in rings that Michaela had on hand that felt Christmassy enough. Honestly, it took us ten minutes to lay down and tweak to our satisfaction, and cost about $10. 

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But being thoroughly good-natured, and not much caring what they laughed at, so that they laughed at any rate, he encouraged them in their merriment, and passed the bottle joyously. - Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
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Keeping in mind the Christmas party scene at Scrooge's nephew's house, we brought to life a scene with lots of candles, rustic, seasonal touches, and simple hearty foods. It felt really good to return to vintage Christmas staples and create a classic setting in the midst of our modern holiday. 

With two roast chickens, glazed carrots, and a beloved family dressing recipe, dinner was ready to go! It fed five adults and three kids perfectly, so we were able to sit and enjoy the meal and good conversation while we sipped warm mulled wine and relaxed together.

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We went with a homemade wonderfully spiced rum raisin cake for our dessert. The novella mentions a Victorian twelfth cake, which is a really similar concept; heavy on eggs, light on sugar, spiked with alcohol, and studded with fruits and nuts in a dense cake. 

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We toasted to the night, finished off the food and wine, and enjoyed the warm fire while visions of A Christmas Carol danced in our heads. This holiday season is often so busy, but we are so glad to have carved out time for this. It's moments like these, coming together and slowing down to appreciate a story as heartwarming as this, that made us feel like this is what the Christmas season is all about.

We hope you were able to slow down and really soak in the holiday spirit with those you love. Happy holidays!

What It's Like to Be in a Banned Books Club

It's #bannedbooksweek, and that means we spend a week calling attention to how harmful censorship is and celebrating the right to read! We have been participating in a local Banned Books Club for the better part of a year now, so we just wanted to let you all take a peek into what a Banned Books Club looks like, and why we appreciate it so much in our reading lives!

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Imagine this: it's mid-month, 7pm, and you're walking into a local bar/restaurant, passing the din of the main dining area and heading straight into the back room. Other members have begun to congregate, and are ordering up drinks or some snacks to fuel the next hour of conversation. It's a relaxed, amiable scene; almost dinner party-ish, with books and pint glasses littering the pushed together tables.

This room contains an exceptionally eclectic mix of people from all walks of life. We have fresh from college newbies, aging writers, and literally everything in between. That kind of diversity is sincerely one of the best parts about going to any book club. Suddenly you find yourself talking to someone quite different than you about politics or careers, or hobbies, or whatever else, and the perspective shift is often such a good reminder that so many different humans and points of view exist in the world.

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Once everyone gets settled in, we get straight to the book. This book club easily has the broadest range of novels I've ever come across. We've read everything from YA graphic novels, to classics, to fantasy, to contemporary fiction. Members often say that's what they love about it; how broad the selections always are, and being pushed to read things they might not otherwise have picked up. It's also proof that books across all genres get challenged.

Most of us who are avid readers tend to stay in our "wheelhouse" right? We tend to know what we like, and we keep picking up the same kinds of books looking for that brand of experience. Being forced out of that has been really, really good for us. We've read more diversely, we've read genres we would have never delved into, and basically cracked open our reading lives and let all kinds of new books open the door for us to explore literature with a wider scope. 

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One of the first things we talk about in the meeting is WHY the book was banned. The reason has ranged from premarital co-habitation to failed seduction attempts by a teenager to illustrations that were "too graphic". This tends to lead to in-depth discussions about whether we thought a book was appropriate in schools, or whether the book made us uncomfortable or not. Sometimes its good to be uncomfortable. Sometimes its good to take a hard look at the reason why something makes you uncomfortable, and to challenge your world view and deeply rooted belief systems. 

It often shocks me what amazing, important works get banned over something like homosexual undertones, or drug use, or what have you. It's reductionist. It takes a work of literature that presents something valuable to the world, and tries to reduce it into something "bad" based on one component, often even from one persons distaste/personal opinion, and it tries to silence the whole experience.

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I can't imagine being so consumed with the feeling that a subject I personally deemed "wrong" should never see the light of day that I would attempt to just blot out the entire work for everyone else, but it has happened. It is happening. It will continue to happen. And that's scary. Honestly, I feel like that narrow, reactionary line of thinking, and willingness to infringe upon other people's intellectual freedom is so much more dangerous than any of the themes or subjects presented in these books could possibly be.

The people in this club tend to agree. Everyone in the room is here because they are against censorship, against silencing taboo topics or alternate world views, and very much against imposing limits on people's abilities to choose for themselves. We discuss the books that have been "challenged" to form our own opinions on it, not to have one made for us. 

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In the end, discussion tapers off, checks are brought, and our next read is chosen, before people scatter back out into the evening. It strikes me that everything about this book club is about perspective shifts. It's about looking at the world in new ways through books, through people, and through the beautiful mingling of the two. 

Would you consider joining or starting a banned books club? Does the concept appeal to you? Let us know!

Literary Event | Browser's Cookbook Book Club

So if you've been hanging out here with us a while, you know how much we love our literary dinner parties. We sincerely believe that creating a beautiful atmosphere enhances the enjoyment of any gathering, and we can apply this to books. We've gotten a pretty good handle on using our own spaces and creating within our own homes, so when the opportunity came to do our thing at a bigger event, we were all over it.

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Our favorite local bookstore, Browsers, in Olympia, WA, hosts a quarterly cookbook book club, and we were excited for the opportunity to attend and style the event. The concept is simple: once a season they pick a cookbook, and members make a dish from it and bring it to share. A dinner party ensues as they sit down and enjoy a meal and conversation together in the upstairs space above the bookstore. It's such a great idea, and proves books don't have to be high literature to be a connecting force. This was their summer event, and members were to cook from any of Yotam Ottolenghi's published works.

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Andrea, the bookstore owner (dream job!), and Kelli, a local food blogger work together to put on this book club. Aren't they lovely? They are some of the absolute nicest people, and amazing hostesses. We love connecting with other members of our community who are doing great things!

Before all the guests arrived, we got to talk to Andrea and Kelli. Mostly, we chatted about our mutual love of books (surprise!) and the role they play in our lives currently. While we were chatting about how much we love and enjoy socializing our lives through reading, something Kelly said especially stuck out to us , "It doesn't have to be fine literature." That we could bring so many people together over a cookbook was phenomenal. Some people were avid readers, but others simply love cooking. It was that simple. There's something for everyone and it doesn't take much to get involved, to meet new friends, and to talk about any type of book.

Our vision for decor for this event was to stay true to the vibe of the store and with the feel of summer. We chose pale green candles, an eclectic mix of candles, and a few other objects that made sense and fit in with the color palette of rose gold, light green, white, and pops of brighter oranges and pinks. These were all simply mixed along the center line of the tables; nothing fussy.

We didn't want to overwhelm the tables, just create a relaxed, slightly boho magic in the ambiance that was befitting of a summer evening gathering, while blending with the vintage-modern aesthetic of the store. We also tied up napkins with twine and tucked in our custom bookmarks and fresh sprigs of rosemary from Rikki's garden before setting them on the absolutely stunning plates that Andrea commissioned from local potter Mariella Luz. Silverware, jam jar drinking vessels, and flowers arrangements set in vintage glass jars by Fleurae completed the look.

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Soon people began to arrive, setting gorgeous platters and bowls of food onto a separate table as they came in and began to mingle. Before long, the table was crowded with a variety of dishes, with everything from watermelon salads to fritters, and desserts. After a quick circle-up and brief announcements, everyone grabbed a plate and headed to go dish up a taste of everything while the tables glowed warmly behind us.

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The tables ended up being split into two to accommodate all the guests, and people quickly claimed their seats and began to pour wine, chat, and discuss what foods they brought. Andrea also cleverly placed discussion questions in little envelopes under some of the plates, giving some structure and provoking deeper conversation at the tables. The conversation flowed seamlessly.

You know that electrifying feeling you get when you find yourself in a room full of positive buzzing energy? That was this event; it felt like just hanging out with friends at a relaxed dinner party, despite most people having just met for the first time. Also, we discovered that so many people who attended were doing such interesting things! Podcasters, writers, photographers, foodies, anesthesiologists, and more were all engaged in friendly conversation and discussing the merits of not only the cookbook, but also how food affects our lives.

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By the end of the night, we were full and happy, and feeling like we just met a roomful of new friends. That's the best kind of event, right? The kind that leaves you full in more than ways than one by the end. We left feeling really encouraged that what we're doing has a place and future in the book world; that creating beautiful social gatherings based on a shared love of books, any type of books, is worthwhile. We are absolutely planning to continue to do more events, so keep an eye out!

Would you want to attend an event like this? Let us know what you think!

 

Vendors

Venue | Browsers 

Flowers | Fleurae

Pottery | Mariella Luz

 

People + Talents

Andrea Ballard | Preheated Podcast

Jennifer Crain and Kelli Samson | Oly Appetizer

Cortney Kelley | Cortney Kelley Photography

Kelli Samson | Fresh Scratch