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Bookworm Party

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A recent, rare, lazy Sunday found me curled up on a friend’s couch, shamelessly canoodling with…a copy of The New Yorker, while warming my toes by the heat of a Duraflame. (What can I say? In winter, I’m a sucker for anyone with a working fireplace.) As my friend took up a novel, I thanked him for the indulgent reading setup: cushions, a fire, snacks and Scotch at the ready. He quipped, “Why keep it to ourselves?” He had a point; why not bring the bookworms out to play?


But not a book club! Nothing that involves preparation, perceptive comments, or that nasty residue of frustration when some people take the club more seriously than others. Instead, a true reading party, where a few friends could bring their books and share the cushy setting. We so often hear complaints about the lack of time to read—why not pair reading with entertaining?


I flashed back to the second grade, when I would sneak-read at a friend’s house. She’d lend me her latest Nancy Drew and, too impatient to wait, I’d instigate a game of hide-and-seek. Then I’d zip into the garden, take cover in the shrubbery, and start reading. A reading party would get that bookish urge out in the open.


So my friend and I came up with a bibliophilic plan of action.


    * Be extra-selective with your invitees. Not everyone has to be a hard-core reader, but they should be game for some quiet time. You may love your running partner’s nonstop wisecracks, but will she be able to keep them to herself for more than 10 minutes?


    * Encourage people to bring whatever they feel like reading. No shame about that dusty back issue or pulpy novel. Dostoevsky and Philippa Gregory are on equal footing here.


    * Make your space as comfortable as possible, since your friends will be sitting relatively still for a while. (And think creatively about seating, since some people may want to sit on the floor, sling themselves sideways in an armchair, or sprawl on the rug.) Bring out extra cushions, plus throw blankets if it’s chilly. Good lighting is a must, or you might hear an echo of that old “you’ll go blind reading in the dark” nag.


    * It’s not a library! Sure, you’ll be absorbed in your book—but no shushing allowed. Plan on a specific reading time frame (like an hour) and let your guests in on the story. Decide whether you want an interruption-free reading period or whether there should be occasional breaks for out-loud commentary. “I just have to read you this hysterical bit from Bill Bryson….”


    * And speaking of breaking the library-esque rules, food and drink are most definitely encouraged. Set out plenty of drinks and bowls of finger food. On the other hand, avoid any extremely crunchy or messy snacks. No matter how badly that Calvin Trillin article makes you crave boudin.


    * Background music is a need-it-or-hate-it point, so have your friends bring their iPods if they want some Bach with their Brontë or Bad Brains with their Stephen King.


    * When the reading time is up, it’s time to stretch and work your way into conversation mode. Segue into a casual meal, or more drinks and snacks, and put on music to get the room stirred up.


    * For the perfect party favor: The Nancy Pearl Action Figure, modeled on the rockin’ Seattle librarian, reviewer, and book activist.

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