How To Host A Books & Bottles Party

How To Host A Books And Bottles Party

This past weekend I attended my friend Thomas Wegner's 7th Annual Books & Bottles Party. Here’s how it works: everyone brings a copy of a book they love and a bottle of alcohol. From the paper chain decor (made from a VC Andrews novel!) to the room filled with book lovers, I was amazed by every aspect of this bookish party. 

It's an idea that needs to spread far and wide.

The world needs more literary-inspired parties!

Stay tuned for my interview with Thomas about the party's origin at the end of this post.


How To Host A Books & Bottles Party

The beauty of this party is how easily you can customize it.

Don't drink alcohol? Call your party Books And Beverages and have people bring their favorite tea, hot chocolate, or coffee to share. Interested in a particular genre? Instruct people to bring their favorite romance, mystery, etc.

The possibilities are endless.


The guests 

Figure out how many people your place can hold. We had just under 30 people at Thomas's house and thanks to double tier seating behind the couch, we made it work. Much more than that would have been complicated. 

As far as who to invite, there are a couple of ways to go about this. Most people have a favorite book so start with your circle of friends. Or invite your book-loving friends. You can ask someone to be your co-host and you can both extend invitations.

I only knew Thomas and Sarah at this party and as an introvert, I was a little nervous. But I trusted I would enjoy getting to know their friends, especially since this was a book-loving crowd and I was right. There were  a number of first timers there and the eclectic collection of people made for fascinating conversation. 



The decor

Thomas and Sarah made paper chains out of a VC Andrews book and strung them up around the house. (Check out Thomas's and Sarah's Instagram accounts if you want to see how they did it.)

Of course, you don't have to put up decorations if you don't want to or don't have time. But should you feel inspired, there are plenty of book crafts out there.



The food and drinks

In addition to asking guests to bring a bottle of alcohol, Thomas whipped up a signature whiskey cocktail for the evening. There were mixers, pop, and water as well.

Food-wise, there was a great assortment of snacks, ranging from cheese and crackers to fruit to chips and dip. Plus dessert! Sarah added small signs with the name of the dish and whether they were allergy-friendly. There's no reason you couldn't make this a potluck. 



The prizes 

Totally optional but what a crowd pleaser! While people were mixing and mingling, Thomas would occasionally call for a prize round. For example, he said he was looking for three writers and gave the prize to the first three hands that shot up. One of those hands was mine and in this case, we each got a journal. 

The prizes were random, as were the categories, and they were a nice way to break up the first part of the evening. Plus, it gave Thomas a chance to brush off his showman skills.



The swap

At the start of the party, everyone wrote their name on a piece of paper and then put it in a bowl. 

One person volunteered to go first and introduced their book. We were instructed to speak for only 42 seconds and most people kept their comments relatively brief. Then they picked a name from a bowl and that’s who got the book. We then continued around the circle.

There was so much love in that room. Everyone was genuinely interested in hearing about the books people had brought and what they meant to them. Some books were crowd pleasers, like when Shelby talked about Neil Gaiman's Stardust. Others no one had heard about before. There were art books, memoirs, fiction, and self-help. It was a great mix!

A volunteer wrote down the titles and authors of what people had brought.


I received a copy of River Town, a memoir by a Peace Corps volunteer set in China. I'm not familiar with it but based on what was shared and reading reviews online, I'm excited to read it.

I brought my all-time favorite novel A Prayer For Owen Meany. I talked about John Irving's gift of creating characters. I might have said Owen Meany is not only Irving's best character but also one of the best characters in all of literature. Yep. I stand by that claim. 

After the last book was given, Thomas said people had the option to trade books if someone had wound up with one they really, really wanted. I'm not sure if anyone took him up on that. Most people seemed pretty happy with what they got. 

It was such a fun night!



Interview With Thomas Wegner

I asked Thomas a few questions about the origin and evolution of Books & Bottles. Be sure to check out MakeRoom and follow him on Instagram.


How did you first come up with the idea for Books & Bottles?

I was introduced to the idea by a friend of mine on the West Coast. He originally hosted the party each year as a ‘13th night’ (the day after the traditional celebration where in the 12 days of Christmas are celebrated with the first day starting on December 25th). He felt gathering friends, after the rush of the holidays were over, for a casual, easy-to-host party that brought people together to share some of their favorite literature was a great idea. I remember thinking at that first party how engaging the event was; how much fun it was for people to take a moment and talk about a book that had really touched them.

It was many years after I attended his party that I started hosting my own - maybe as much as a decade had passed - but it always remained in my mind. I never forgot it and in fact remembered fondly how much fun it was. I knew when the time was right, I would try hosting it.

The first year I hosted it the event was rather small but also very popular. I throw parties often but that first party was different. Even though I invited only a few people, all of them enthusiastically accepted the invitation and they all showed up. The turn out rate was very high and I knew then I had something people loved.


How has the party changed or grown over the years?

At that first party I had just moved to the community and I didn’t know a lot of people. I recall inviting everyone I had recently met. The party was a smaller but what we lacked for in size we made up for in enthusiasm. People were eager to get the discussion and exchange part of the evening started and it quickly became a lively discussion of all of these favorite books.

Since that first year, I have met many more people and while the crowd ebbs and flows a bit from year to year, old friends returning and new faces attending, I have gotten particular about who I invite. Because there is a focused program, I have to keep in mind the number of people. If you have too many people the discussion and book exchange can take a very long time!  We have to manage simple things like having enough seating for everyone to sit together in a circle and being able to hear each other.


What's the key(s) to having a great Books & Bottles party?

Inviting friends who are what I think of as ‘real readers’. What I mean is most everyone reads something or another but not everyone reads and really cherishes books. If people show up with books they casually read or don’t have much attachment to then you get an exchange that lacks a bit of passion. However, if everyone brings a book they have read and really love then you get a more lively and meaningful exchange. Some people bring books that have changed their lives or opinions for the better.  Others bring books that moved them in a special way or that they recall fondly from their youth.  Perhaps they bring a novel they really love because they can relate to the character. In all of these examples you end up with someone else’s amazing book. In a way, you end up with a part of them or at the least you have gotten to know that person better.

The other key to having a great B&B is some bottles of drinks. This may sound funny but I truly believe it. I personally try to offer a couple of drinks to my guests as quickly as possible. This helps everyone to loosen up, mingle, laugh and chat with each other. It may also help relieve any nerves someone might have about giving a small speech later about their book. And let’s face it, some people are sharing books that come from a very personal and sometimes vulnerable place for them.


Any advice for someone who would like to host their own Books & Bottles party?

Hosting a B&B party is a wonderful thing to do and its actually a pretty simple party to throw. I’d say to not be afraid to take the extra time and explain to guests ahead of time that they have to do a bit of homework for the party. This is not just a show up sort of affair. People have to put some time into thinking about what book they will bring, getting a copy of that book and be ready to share why it is they love it so much. In reality this may mean some people may be turned off from attending, but in the end, that may be okay as those who do attend will be a self-selected group and they are sure to love it.



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A Little Free Library Tour Of Minneapolis's Greater Longfellow Neighborhood

A couple of weeks ago, I had lunch with my friend Sarah. Knowing my love of Little Free Libaries, she mentioned she's noticed a bunch in her neighborhood. My ears perked right up and I asked her if she'd take me on a Little Free Library tour.

It was windy and cold on the day we chose but we did not let that stop us. However, we did decide to make it a driving/walking tour of Longfellow, instead of just a walking tour. This was a great life decision.

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We pulled up the Little Free Library map as our starting place but in the course of the afternoon, we found at least a handful of LFLs that were not registered and therefore weren't on the map. 

We didn't make it to every LFL on the map either but in the course of 2 hours, I believe we stopped by 17 LFLs. It was so much fun! I could not get over how creative people were or the variety of books people left. Here are several of the best ones.



At our first stop, we found the most darling bookmarks and library borrowers cards. I haven't seen that before and I loved the idea!


A number of churches have LFLs. This was at a UU church, complete with its own bench. And it boasted a vintage book about Mary Lou Retton. (Neither of us took it.)


A little country Western flair.


One of my favorites of the day! A Dr. Seuss quote, bright blue, with a bench on the side.


A twofer! The one on the left is for children's books. The one of the right is for grown-ups. Plus, this is right next to Dowling Community Garden.


THAT BENCH THOUGH. I need it in my life.



This was the saddest thing. And this LFL was outside a church no less! There are plenty of times I leave a book without taking one or take a book without leaving one. I figure it all evens out in the end. But to clear out a whole LFL? This person must have been very desperate to resort to this. After this stop, we started noticing a number of the books had this very stamp or else a sticker. 


It's a house mini-me! We saw a couple of these and they always make me smile.


This was my favorite of the day. It had beautiful windows on each side. And that sun! 


Bird houses! There was a plaque on the side that said this was an Eagle Scout project. How cool is that?! 


I didn't think I would find any books I wanted but I came away with some amazing finds. I was especially excited about the old copy of The World According To Garp, which is my third favorite John Irving novel. Tomatoland has been on my TBR for ages so that was a fun find as well. And I decided the Maisie Dobbs novel was a sign I should actually try the series so many friends rave about.

I also had fun being a book pusher with Sarah. There were a number of old favorites I told her she just had to read. We both walked away with good books!

I definitely want to go on another Little Free Library tour. Minneapolis- really, all of the Twin Cities and their suburbs- has a TON of Little Free Libraries that are worth exploring. Although hopefully next time, it'll be on a sunnier, less windy day.


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Read Between The Lynes (Bookstore Spotlight)


While I was visiting my friend Megan a couple of weeks ago, I asked her to take me to the farmers market as she's raved about it for years. She agreed and said we should also stop by the local independent bookstore and have tea and coffee afterward.


That's how I found myself wandering the town square in Woodstock, Illinois. The famers market was darling and I happily bought cider doughtnuts and honeycrisp apples. I also took a picture with the plaque proclaiming the good news that Groundhog Day was filmed there.

Then we headed over to Read Between The Lynes, which was as whimsical and delightful as I hoped. Part bookstore and part cafe, it more than met our needs. I took so many pictures, I thought I might as well turn them into a post. Maybe bookstore spotlights will be a new feature here.

A note about the cafe: not only can you get coffee and Harney & Sons tea, they also sell ice cream and candy. There's not a ton of indoor seating but if the weather is nice, you can take your treat over to the square and sit there.


Every part of the bookstore has been chosen with care, from the genres they carry to the decor. I loved seeing all of the details unique to Read Between The Lines. They had a good amount of autographed copies and I was delighted by how extensive their fiction and YA sections were. I didn't see any romance titles but hey, no store is perfect. ;)

Read Between The Lynes has been in its present location for a couple of years. It expanded to 1600 square feet when another business closed. In a time when people moan about the dearth of bookstores, it's exciting to hear about the ones that are thriving, especially to the point of needing more space.



A book tree in the children's section. 




I had to talk myself out of buying both of Amy Thielen's books for budgetary reasons but I want them so badly. In the meantime, it's the library waitlist for me.



Blind Date With A Book is my newest obsession and I love the way this bookstore does it. They use Advance Reading Copies! They're $2 apiece and the money goes toward local schools. Is that not the best idea? 


I bought two. Anything for a good cause, amirite? 





Book pages hang from the ceiling throughout the store. I LOVED THIS. I also love how they highlight local authors.


I also thought this was a darling idea: I found love in my bookshop when... cards. How would you answer? 


Clearly this is the best answer!

If you find yourself in or near Woodstock, make it a point to stop by Read Between The Lynes. Browse the books, get yourself a beverage or a treat, maybe buy a Blind Date or two. It's worth it.


But I Wasn't Alone



Photo by Josh Applegate on Unsplash


My mind did not initially register what I saw.

I walked toward where my car was parked and saw a white car with random parts on the ground in front of it, the bumper hanging partially off, the headlight busted. What happened to that car, I wondered. How did that even happen?


"You guys," I yelled to my friends, trying to keep the note of hysteria from creeping in. "Look at what happened to my car!" 

Melissa and Danielle rushed over from where they'd been headed and we gaped at the destruction. 

This was not how the weekend was supposed to go.

We had picked a random town in Wisconsin to meet up at the end of July. I hadn't seen Melissa and Danielle since before I moved to San Francisco but now that we lived in adjoining states, it was time to catch up. 

We've been friends for almost 20 years now and it's easy to feel like we're still in college when we're together, no matter how much has changed since then. Saturday evening  we'd visited a brewery and then found a restaurant serving our beloved fried pickles. We all agreed: these were as good as the ones at La Grotto's. No small feat. Sunday morning we'd planned on checking out a cute coffee shop we'd passed on the way to the brewery.

That plan was put on hold as it became clear my car had been the victim of a hit and run. While a few hotel guests had witnessed it happen late the night before, they had been unable to catch the license plate. 

On any given day, my mind is a wild cacophony of thoughts. Put me in some sort of difficult situation and those thoughts take a hyperbolic and/or fatalistic direction. Welcome to the jungle.

I needed to drive home that afternoon. Was my car even drivable? If it wasn't, how would I get back to the Twin Cities? I didn't know any mechanics there. How soon could it be fixed? What would I do if I had to stay in Wisconsin? What about work? 

Then looming behind all that: the knowledge my temp job would be ending soon without any good prospects on the horizon. I was about to be unemployed again while having to pay my deductible and a portion of the rental car for something that wasn't my fault. Stressed was an understatement.

This all passed through my mind in seconds.

Then I took a deep breath. If I'd been there on my own, I might have fallen apart. The last straw and all that.

But I wasn't alone.

I looked at Danielle and Melissa and this zen state came over me. Unlike most things in my life, I didn't have to go through this on my own.

Sure, there was still strong language but the hysteria that tried to take hold quickly ebbed away. Everything rolled off my back. I focused on one thing at a time: talking to the sheriff's department, calling insurance, determining if my car was drivable.

Emotional equanimity is the gift of the healthy Four and that day it was on display in full force. I am convinced my friends were a big part of that. Their presence kept me present. They kept checking on me because they were ready for the breakdown. I was upset but I held it together because what else can you do?

Instead, I focused on what I did have.

My friends stayed by my side while I made phone calls and waited for the police. They waited with me and took me out for tea while we waited for a mechanic and drove to get  gorilla tape and took my mind off of the weight of this new disaster. 

Unless you have been single for many years, I'm not sure you'll understand how much this means.

I wasn't alone.

Let me repeat that: I wasn't alone.

I'm in charge of everything in my life. Whether it's chores around the house or everything that comes with moving out of state, it all comes down to me. It can be exhausting but I'm used to it. I don't have a choice. Either I take care of things or they don't get done. Full stop.

When it came to this car debacle, I still had to make all the phone calls and deal with the car rental company and the mechanic. But I had two dear friends by my side and that made all the difference. Having Melissa and Danielle there to bear witness and help out in tangible ways was a balm. I didn't know how much I needed that balm. 

The gift of presence goes farther than any of us ever know.

I Think I'll Go For A Walk Outside Now

I am, as my friend's boyfriend likes to say, indoorsy. While I enjoy going on a nice hike or simply basking in the sun, I rarely think of doing so.

Most of my athletic endeavors, like joining the college crew team or hiking the Grand Canyon, occurred because friends invited me and I'm so grateful for those experiences. 

But I never think to simply go for a walk by myself. I can walk with purpose, such as going to a restaurant or a store, but simply going for a solitary stroll doesn't cross my mind. 

Part of this is because of the messages drilled into me as a child: don't walk on the prairie path by yourself, always be aware of your surroundings...basically all boiling down to the messages women receive on how not to be raped. I've never been assaulted but the specter is ever present. (Don't get me started on how we should actually be teaching men not to rape, instead of hypotheticals that don't protect women in the end.)

And part of this is simply because I like being in the comfort of my home. I like curling up with a good book or hosting friends for dinner.  

It's something I've thought a lot about over the years. I wish I was a more active person and there have been periods of my life where this was true. I walked nearly every day I lived in San Francisco. I'd get off the bus and walk 11 blocks to the office. I'd walk to the grocery store and I'd walk down to Devil's Teeth for my favorite breakfast sandwich. It became a way of life and it was a little disconcerting to move to the Twin Cities and revert to driving my car all the time.

"Walking is mapping with your feet. It helps you piece a city together, connecting up neighborhoods that might otherwise have remained discrete entities, different planets bound to each other, sustained yet remote. I like seeing how in fact they blend into one another, I like noticing the boundaries between them. Walking helps me feel at home." p. 27-8

I read Lauren Elkin's book Flaneuse: Women Walk The City In Paris, New York, Tokyo, Venice, and London a couple of months ago and it made me think even more about my own experiences of walking in the cities I've lived. Because of all the walking I did in San Francisco, I do know that city- or at least the neighborhoods I most frequented- better than any other place I've lived. And as I read the book, I realized I want to know the Twin Cities in a similar fashion. I'm trying to push myself to explore on foot, even if it's only a few blocks around where I'm living. I like Elkin's idea of how walking can help us feel more at home in the world. 

I want to see how walking here changes me because of what and whom I encounter. The more we learn about a place, the more we learn about ourselves. I absolutely believe this is true and I think pushing past the fears and vulnerabilities that hold me back from taking solitary walks will further embody this lesson. 

Last month I decided to explore the neighborhood where I was catsitting. I've stayed there a few times and thought I had a good idea of what the surrounding blocks offered. I was wrong.

Walking opened my eyes to so many things.


The cutest birdhouse I've ever seen


This house had All Are Welcome Here signs in at least 4 or 5 different languages. At least half of the surrounding blocks had these signs and Black Lives Matter signs. LOVED this.


House crush.


This was the coolest, most unexpected discovery. This marked the house of Arthur, Edith, and Mary Lee who moved to the neighborhood in 1931, the first African American family to do so. People were not pleased. Arthur's friends stood in a protective ring around the house to safeguard it and the family and eventually the crowd went away. According to the sign, there hasn't been a white mob demonstrating against housing integration since. That makes it sound like Minnesota hasn't had a problem with racism since, which of course couldn't be further from the truth. But I was heartened to learn about the Lees and their friends' bravery. I hope the neighborhood learned to truly welcome them.

I see this neighborhood in a completely different light thanks to a 30 minute walk. 

Last week my roommate and I went for a walk through our neighborhood. We walked past the beautiful pond and past houses undergoing renovations and a huge fairy town. (There's no other way to describe the magic. I love elf and fairy houses.) Then the piece de resistance: we stumbled onto not one but two Little Free Libraries. While I already liked this neighborhood, the two Little Free Libraries cemented that feeling. I'm already contemplating what books I can leave and what new discoveries I'll make.

And yes, I'm absolutely going back to the house with the fairy town.


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