"I don't read books without pictures.
Can we bring porn?"
Can I bring a book that I wrote?
Can I bring a used book I found at Starbucks?
Can we bring husbands?
Yes to all of the above real-life questions asked in anticipation of my holiday book swap party.
If you are local and are reading this, you are probably already on the guest list--but if you are not and, even after reading this, still want to attend, send me an e-mail and I'll send back the details.
Want to try this in your own home or library? Here are the rules:
1)Have each guest select a book that has some sort of personal meaning to them. Readers can like the book or hate it--but it has to have some personal or literary connection to their lives. People who come as part of a couple, can bring one or two books--but those who bring one book, only get to take one book home to share.
2)Tell each guest to gift wrap the book--without including a card or any identifying labels. No one should be able to tell the book by the gift wrap.
3)Bring the book to the book swap party and put it on the coffee table in the living room, or any other predetermined location.
4) At some point in the festivities, which, at my home, will include buffet, desserts, and wine, we will sit around the coffee table and briefly admire how well everyone wrapped the books.
Here's what happens next:
One person, at random, will choose a wrapped book.
That person will then open the package, announce the title and author of the book, and proceed to read out loud the first paragraph. (Plan to recycle or take home the wrapping paper and provide recycling bin for that purpose. If organic matter is used in the gift wrapping--consider composting and have the bin nearby. And if the receiver really hates the book and no one else wants it, I suppose that the book can be recycled as well or donated to your nearest library.)
Then the person who selected the book, wrapped it and brought it to the party--will then tell us why it was chosen. Hopefully there will be an interesting anecdote or comment or insight, but maybe not. Maybe other people will chime in--or maybe not.
This one at a time selection, unwrapping and discussion process will continue until the last book is chosen and discussed.
At that point, if people don't like the book that they received, or they have already read it, they can trade.
Here's how I screwed it up the first time.
Clearly, the book swap party is not an original idea and there are lots of ways to do it--including a simple grab bag with no explanations or readings. But, as a discussion leader, I really like the chatty format and I thank author/literary event producer, Susanne Pari for introducing me to it.
Back in 2006, hostess extraordinaire,Susanne, filled her Atherton living room with a stellar guest list including Amy Tan (and a small dog), Lalita Tademy, Firoozeh Dumas and her then newborn daughter, Ellen Sussman, Bridget Kinsella, Harriet Chessman, Kathy Kamen Goldmark, and other awesome talent I can no longer remember. I was there, in part, because I was helping with Book Group Expo--a booklovers festival that took place a few months later at the San Jose Exposition Center.
I do remember being filled with awe. As a librarian, I knew who the authors were and what they had written. I have an amazing ability to gush--which is sometimes a blessing and sometimes a curse--but usually comes in handy when authors and artists are around.
Anyway, at Susanne's remarkable gathering with an abundance of fine food, desserts and a living room aglow with holiday light, the book du jour was Dave Eggers book What Is The What, The Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng: A Novel. This tale about the "lost boys" of Sudan, truly was one of the best books of 2006 and several people took copies home.
I was not one of the people who brought the Dave Eggers book. Instead, I played it safe with a classic and brought Thornton Wilder's The Bridge Over San Luis Rey, a novel/parable which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1928. The setting is Lima, Peru, in 1714, where a Franciscan monk witnesses the collapse of a bridge that has stood for over a century, killing the five people on it. The priest becomes determined to figure out if this was a random tragedy or a higher plan of our creator. In fact, in his memorial tribute to the victims of the terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11, 2001, British prime minister Tony Blair quoted from the book, and since then it has become even more popular, as the world has struggled to reconcile faith with catastrophe.
To be honest with you, Bridge Over San Luis Rey, is a plodding read. The language is dated and I didn't really connect to any of the people who fell off the bridge. Actually, I would not expect anyone in my book group to finish it. But in 2006, trying to build a reputation as a book group leader, with these stellar authors in attendance, I was out to impress. So, I figured, Bridge Over San Luis Rey, won a Pulitzer Prize (in 1928 no less), Tony Blair (then more in favor than now) quoted from it, there's talk of existentialism --that oughta impress 'em.
In any event, as a lagniappe, (a.k.a. parting gift) Susanne e-mailed us the list of all the books chosen and discussed.
This was a wonderful way to create a holiday gift gifting list and/or a personal reading list for the New Year.
Getting it right this time
This year, at my house, I'm thinking of wrapping up Going Rogue by Sarah Palin, because everyone I know wants to read it, but no one wants to buy it--so I'll go out on a limb and buy it for someone. Am also loving Mennonite In A Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen, about a writer who "goes home again" to a California Mennonite community, when her marriage and her life fall apart. So maybe that will show up on the coffee table.
There will be some talented authors in attendance--but most of the group will be readers. I will not be scared of the people around me! I will not try to unduly impress them!
I may or may not gush. One cannot always control these things.
If you try this in your own home, write and let me know how it goes.
Causes Lauren John Supports
Keplers Bookstore Circle of Friends (Menlo Park)
Friends of the Menlo Park Public Library
Book Group Expo
Marin Agricultural Land Trust...