How to Host Bookishly

wrapped books on a table, each of which has descriptors written on it

If you are reading anything on this site, you probably like books. This is a bit of a stretch, I’ll admit, but you may also like people too? Let’s get really wild here: you might even like your home, especially comfy spots like your living room sofa. Personally, I like reading, and people, and even sitting on my own sofa. And talking. I like talking. Add them all together, and it’s just magic. Aahh, books, people, sitting on my own sofa, and talking. What could be better? Just in case you, too, would like to combine these four joys, here are a number of ways you might be able to lure people into your home to talk with you about books you like.

Book Swap

I host an annual book swap called “Our Apartment is Book Country,” where people bring books they don’t want and leave with books they do. The preparation for this event involves hoarding cardboard boxes for weeks ahead of time, and then setting up the swap area on the day itself. In my household, we devote an entire bedroom to the swap and reserve the living room for snacks and conversation.

messy rows of books
My bed covered in books during the swap

As you might imagine, “Our Apartment is Book Country” engenders a lot of conversation about which books people pick up, who has read what, why people decide to keep or jettison particular editions, and a number of other related topics. Afterwards, we box up the leftover books and donate them to one of my favorite local charities, Housing Works Bookstore Café. As a special bonus, after the swap, I also own more books and have a sneak preview of what several of my friends are reading next.

No-Commitment One-Shot Book Club

If you’d like to have people over to talk about books without doing any literal heavy lifting, you can also host a “book club” style event that doesn’t require an ongoing commitment. Most book clubs that meet in-person read a book a month and gather at a set time to discuss them, but that’s more of a scheduling commitment than I’d like to make. The book clubs I enjoy are all hosted online and participation is asynchronous, so to get the in-person experience I host “One-Shot” Book Club evenings where we discuss an entire book series in one go. That way, people need only RSVP for discussions about books that actually interest them.

I have done One-Shot Book Club discussions of the Harry Potter series, the Bone series, and the Ancillary Justice trilogy. I think the key to this is lead time with the invitations. Give your potential guests time to finish reading the series, or time to refresh their memories about what happens in it! On the evening itself, I print out discussion questions and randomize them, so that we can prompt ourselves if the conversation lags. Fun fact: the conversation has never lagged, and instead, we read the questions aloud at the end of the evening and congratulate ourselves for having addressed them all unprompted.

a mug with a post-it note saying GOBLET.
This was my “Goblet of Fire” full of rolled-up discussion questions on the evening we discussed the Harry Potter series.

Blind Date with a Book

This is an event I have not actually hosted, but have enthusiastically attended in the past. Each guest arrives with a brown paper-wrapped book, and writes a few enticing descriptors about the book on the paper. Then, guests take turns selecting from the wrapped books based on the descriptors. After the unwrapping, people have enthusiastic conversations with the person who picked up the book they brought, the person who brought the book they picked up, and, frankly, anyone who picked up a different book that looks interesting.

A brown-paper wrapped book has descriptors written on it
This was my contribution to the evening!

When I attended a Blind Date with a Book event, people put their name in a hat and the names got drawn randomly for turns selecting from the pile. When you host, however, you can select people to take a turn however you’d like. Trivia contest, perhaps? Some other game? I think this activity could use an extra theme, like Halloween or travel adventures. If I do this for a Valentine’s Day party this year, I know I’ll be breaking out some themed cocktails.

Group Read-Aloud

I find it especially fulfilling to host people for a read-aloud if the book is meant to have an aural component. This year, a group of friends and I frequently get together to read Emily Wilson’s new translation of The Odyssey aloud in a group. We tend to read about a page each before we pass it along to the next person in the circle, and pause after each book to discuss it and refill snacks and beverages.

In the past, I have also hosted people to read plays aloud, usually Shakespeare or Stoppard or a translated ancient Greek. That generally goes well with assigned character roles. Reading a play aloud is handy for a one evening commitment, unlike the Odyssey, which as the title indicates is more of a long term proposition. It’s probably best to know the play pretty well before you host, so you can tell people about the size and tone of the role they take on and so you know whether to assign a stage directions reader as well.

Now that I am hosting The Odyssey, I can also see how this idea would work well with a book of poetry. I would bet Electric Arches by Eve Ewing would read aloud particularly well in a group because, while the collection hangs together thematically, each poem clearly has its own voice.

Screen Adaptation Bait and Switch

When I mentioned to a friend that I was planning this list, she got an extremely satisfied look on her face and advised, “You invite people over to watch the movie version, and then you talk to them about the book,” and lo, I realized that I have joyfully attended this bait and switch many times. I have even unintentionally hosted this activity a couple of times. For instance, one friend persuaded me to watch The Lizzie Bennett Diaries with her, and we ended up chatting extensively about the book Pride and Prejudice. I first saw Dil Bole Hadippa with this same friend, and then we literally talked for years about its relationship to Twelfth Night, even though it’s technically not even an adaptation.

I would feel silly enumerating adaptations that would be good for this, there are so many. I will just say that this bait and switch will work best with potential guests who know the book well already, and who enjoy analyzing adaptation choices.


And there you have it! Whether you want to host a movie viewing (and talk about a book you like), an environmentally sound and budget conscious swap (and talk about books you like), a cozy parlor performance (and talk about a book you like), a marketing and personality experiment (and talk about books you like), or explicitly gather people for an evening of talking about an entire series of books you like, your choices are numerous and your friends can be both successfully and bookishly hosted.

Emily Lauer

Emily Lauer

Emily Lauer lives in Manhattan with her husband, daughter and dog. She teaches writing and literature at Suffolk County Community College where she studies comics, kids' books, adaptations and visual culture. She is a former Pubwatch Editor for WWAC, and frankly, there is a lot more gray in her hair than there was when this profile picture was taken.

One thought on “How to Host Bookishly

  1. Since I am ever the shill:

    If you like comparing and contrasting adaptations with one another, as well as their original works, then look into Lost in Adaptation on YouTube; a fantastic show that compares adaptations (usually movies) with their originals (usually books) and reviews both to the nth degree to determine what improved, what didn’t, what worked and what failed, and just how faithful an adaptation it was. If you’re both a bibilophile and a cinephile, than Lost in Adaptation is for you.

    As for the topic at hand:

    The "One-Shot" one seems to be my speed; I need to try that.

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