Savor it for a while. Do you like it? What do you like about it? Are you picking up any hints of where it came from? No, we aren’t talking about a wine tasting or a chocolate tasting. We’re “tasting” books!
Many teaching blogs and sites out there explain how to have a book-tasting party for their students, but I have yet to see a guide for hosting one specifically for adults. Look no further! Here is how you can host a fun book-tasting party for grown-ups!
Just don’t actually eat the books, okay?
Choose The Book Samples
I recommend choosing books that most of your guests haven’t read but suits their general interests. After all, the point of a book tasting is to expand your guests’ literary palettes and expose them to new books to go on their TBR list. But even if a few guests have tasted a certain book before doesn’t mean they won’t enjoy sampling it again. You could also choose selections from several different genres or stick to one or two.
Set The Ambience
Set up place settings for each guest, complete with plate, utensils, glass, and napkin. You can go as formal or informal as you like. For more authenticity, you could prepare a “menu” that describes the selection for the night and provides space for guests to record their thoughts about the books they taste. Place the books on the plates for your guests.
Make Specific Sample Decisions
Unless you have multiple copies of each book, you may have to place a different book on each plate. Or if you do want everyone to sample the same book at the same time, but don’t have access to multiple copies, you could pre-select excerpts from each book on the menu and print a copy for each guest. It’d take some time and elbow grease on your part, but you’d have to find interesting passages that would fill the allotted reading time. Those passages don’t have to be consecutive; feel free to bounce ahead to another great passage elsewhere in the book. A huge advantage of using excerpts is that everyone will sample the same content.
Whether a book or printed sheets with excerpts, put it on the guests’ plates to sample. Just no plot spoilers if you go with excerpts. Be cool.
Does this option mean more work? Absolutely. Is it worth it? Absolutely. Either way, it’ll be a fun party.
Taste The Books
Tell your guests to read each book (or excerpts) for five minutes or so and to annotate on the menu what they like, dislike, “hints” of the book’s context, or any other thoughts or questions they have while reading. You could write some probing questions on the menu if you think that would help your guests write more effective notes. Also, have guests rate the sampling.
If each guest has a different book, rotate the books after the sampling and repeat the process until everyone has sampled every book on the table. Then discuss each book. If you sampled the same book, discuss it after the reading time ends before moving on to the next selection.
Although the actual process of a book-tasting party is fairly similar to book speed dating, a book-tasting theme feels more playful and light. Plus, it involves other people sharing their ideas and insights, which could be more productive and helpful for guests to decide which of the books they want to read fully after the party.
Do Your Research
As with any food or drink tasting, you have to do at least some preparation beforehand. Just as knowing the location each wine comes from and other details can help people distinguish a certain flavor in the wine, knowing background of when/where the book comes from can help us as the readers understand interesting things about the text’s meaning and significance. For example, knowing Charles Dickens actually worked as a child in conditions similar to the ones he describes in his books makes those conditions feel more real, more poignant, and more horrific to a modern reader who doesn’t experience the same situation. It pays off to do a little research about the author, the historical or cultural context, and any other influences or “hints” that might affect the “flavor” of the book.
Increase The Difficulty Level
For advanced, confident readers (i.e., adults who really, really like to read and are familiar with the genre of your chosen samples), you could try giving guests only excerpts without the title or author to see if anyone can find clues about when/where the book comes from or any other “hints of flavor.” After you reveal the author/title, you can share background and other details about the book.
Can they tell when it was written from the language the author uses? Can they pick up any specific cultural hints from their small sample to indicate either the author’s or the character’s background?
“Wait a second,” you say. “Guests are only going to be reading for five minutes! That isn’t enough time to pick up many clues like that!” I realize, dear reader, that some books may not lend themselves to this kind of analysis on a time crunch, especially if your guests aren’t literary professors. However, you’d be surprised when you have a focused reading what you can pick up. Plus, if you and your guests find that you aren’t enjoying this guessing game, stop doing it for the other samples. Make sure this party is fun!
If you want to go with this challenging guessing game, I’d recommend inviting people who would feel completely comfortable being completely wrong. Unless you pick iconic books and book quotes that they know from memory, people will probably get a few guesses wrong. You need a group that can laugh and enjoy this party and not leave embarrassed.
Although this excerpt option, like I mentioned before, requires more work from you as the host to find helpful and interesting portions from books, it would be a cool experience to see if guests can find the text details that reveal its origins and guess some aspects correctly.
Feed Your Guests
All this talk about “tasting” and “flavor” is making me hungry just writing this post. Of course, you have to feed your guests actual food when you’re all sitting at a table with a plate in front of them! If you don’t provide refreshments, you just might see a few people actually try to eat a book out of desperation. What kind of a party wouldn’t have food anyway?
You could give your guests cupcakes with adorable book-themed toppers made from white chocolate and fruit leather (or fondant if you’re the culinary/crafty type), or pick a food from one of the books you’re “tasting” at the party.
Which books would you want to include in a book-tasting party?
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Featured image via Janel Comeau