Summer is a time for outdoor gatherings—barbecues, picnics, backyard parties—and we know that such events can so easily go wrong. What’s better than learning from your own mistakes? Learning from someone else’s. Here are eight novels with memorable party scenes and “Do and Don’t” tips that will make you the host with the most.
It’s fitting that a family on the brink of self-fueled collapse sees one of its central characters first destabilized at the scene of a wedding. Nothing exacerbates relationships in turmoil faster than cocaine and a festive occasion.
DO: Find yourself at a beach club party at sunset.
DON’T: Avoid your wife at your cousin’s wedding and then leave with one of the waitresses after having too much to drink.
We would be remiss not to include a novel that centers around a barbecue. In TRULY MADLY GUITLY, an impromptu backyard roast between neighbors sets up a series of before and after chapters that point toward a terrible incident lodged somewhere between beautiful lawn ornaments and tasty dishes.
DO: Surprise your party guests with an array of unexpected foods like roasted hog, struklji (cheese strudel), and cremeschnitte (vanilla and custard cream cake).
DON’T: Surprise a friend with a massive and personal proposition right before heading to a party.
Having GONE WITH THE WIND on this list proves that our favorite classics either offer timeless advice or that human nature continues to allow for questionable decision making. At any rate, summer is the perfect time to reread or dive in for the first time.
DO: Hire musicians to accompany the crowd on your waxed and polished dance floor.
DON’T: Accept a proposal just to make someone jealous.
The Game of Thrones and Harry Potter series are both masterworks of imaginative literature that have been thrillingly translated to the screen, but for my taste, I’ll go with Gone with the Wind. Like the Stark family and the residents of Hogwarts, Scarlett and Rhett are such vivid characters on the page that you can’t imagine them being portrayed adequately on film—until suddenly, there they are, each work only enhancing your enjoyment of the other.
Think dark secrets, betrayals, and tragic consequences when you were expecting pizza, cake, and silly stories. What’s meant to be a birthday sleepover filled with innocent fun quickly takes a terrible turn, prompting a couple to wonder how much they really know about their daughter and their own marriage.
DO: Attempt to tell your 16-year-old daughter and her friends to party responsibly.
DON’T: Be the cool dad and give said daughter and her friends a bottle of champagne for her birthday. Especially when your wife has mixed wine and sedatives and will likely sleep heavily through any emergency situations.
Aloft in a bourgeois paradise one minute and tangled in wartime reality the next, this novel moves between both worlds as its narrator relives a privileged childhood that’s since been colored by conflict.
DO: Construct a “life-size effigy of a swan, molded in ice and filled with caviar” as a party centerpiece. You can certainly get creative on how best to scoop out your fancy fish eggs.
DON’T: Bring a bottle of wine or champagne to your bathtub and throw yourself a solo party.
Evelyn Waugh’s delicious coming-of-age tale of star-crossed lovers and sexually ambiguous pretty boys drinking their way through guilt trips over religion and lost love provided an admittedly romantic backdrop to my own rocky adolescent journey to adulthood.
Not for snacking in one sitting, we hope. But seriously, the title refers to how many grapes it takes to make one bottle of wine, and we all know what happens when too many glasses are downed in the summer heat. Plenty of secrets are kept and divulged in this family drama about a young woman who discovers she may not know her fiancé or her family as well as she thought she did.
DO: Throw a harvest party in wine country and invite some “Cork Dorks” winemakers to help you sample wine straight from the barrel.
DON’T: Crash a wedding and not expect to get punched in the face by the groom.
EIGHT HUNDRED GRAPES is escapist reading at its best because not only are there sun-dappled fields to picture, a dashing neighbor vying for Georgia’s attention, and behind-the-scenes winemaking (author Laura Dave took her wine research seriously!), there is also real heart.
Who doesn’t want to live in West Egg next to an elusive Mr. Gatsby, wondering what goes on inside his estate, or why he sometimes stands in the dark reaching toward an inky lake? If you make your way into a colorful, eccentric night of near strangers sometime this summer, consider adapting this sage advice.
DO: Judge a host by their library. If the bookshelves reach the ceiling and the books are all real, you know you’re in for a great night.
DON’T: Fail to recognize your host, especially if you’re already engaged in conversation with him and have begun talking about the man behind the evening’s spectacle. On second thought, ask to be introduced to your host as soon as you arrive at the party to be safe, and maybe don’t listen to any wild speculation about men they may or may not have killed.
Some consider it “the great American novel.” The story of the fabulously wealthy Jay Gatsby and his powerful love for the beautiful Daisy Buchanan is an exquisitely crafted tale that has been essential reading since it was published.
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“Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.” Could there be a more memorable line in party-planning literature? When careful preparations of epic proportions are undertaken, the party itself should go swimmingly. But that’s not always the case—especially not when you have a great many friends and acquaintances from all walks of life and a sensitive soul.
DO: Attract a crowd by inviting recognizable faces; consider Prime Ministers and Lords.
DON’T: Overcrowd the party so there’s no room for dancing. Bonus—don’t maintain an inner dialogue of conflicted feelings while you’re hosting, parties are fun!