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Organizing a Literary Evening

Adult Friends Reading Aloud to Each Other

The Format

This guide is based on the experience of Mr. and Mrs. David Trumbull who have organized pleasant literary evenings with friends in Boston since 2001. The format is simple.

  • Eight to ten friends agree to participate on some set evening.
  • A topic, typically expressed in one or two words, is set well in advance of the planned evening.
  • Notices, as postcard or online invitation, are sent to each participant as a reminder of the date, the topic and the rules.
  • Each participant selects a short (five-minutes in length) piece to read; it may be of his own composition or some other work of literature.
  • On the evening of the event the guest arrrive on time and the first 30 minutes are passed in general conversation and enyoying the snacks and beverages provided.
  • After 30 minutes everyone sits down, roughly in a circle and the reading begins going around the circle in order until half of the participants have read.
  • Break for 30 minutes for more general discussion, snacks, beverages, and to stretch the legs.
  • After the 30 break everyone sits down again and the readings continue around the circle.

Everyone must arrive on time and stick to the five-minute limit on the readings. If the group meets at 7:00 p.m. for general conversation and starts reading at 7:30 p.m. five persons (half of the circle) times five minutes each, plus allowing another five minutes for the group to talk about each reading, brings us up to nearly 8:30. Then we take a 30 minute mid-way break. If you then start reading at 9:00 it'll be around 10:00 when the last person finishes. In other words ten people each reading for five minutes adds up, with discussion and breaks, to be a full three-hour evening of entertainment.

Food and Drink

We've found through experience that reading groups are most effective when they are "fun taken seriously". The ancient Greeks and Romans held their philosophical discussions at dining and drinking parties. In fact, the word symposium, which now means a gathering for scholarly exchange, originally, in Greek, meant getting together to drink wine. Wine or beer can relax the participants, loose their tongues, and generally engender camaraderie. But, as we all know, too much alcohol dulls the senses. We suggest that if you drink at your discussion, you stick to beer or wine in moderation. And lay off the hard stuff. Likewise, the food, if any, served during the discussion should be light. If you want to have dinner together, dine first and then take up the reading after dinner. A good rule to follow is that of Benjamin Franklin:

Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation

When the Trumbulls organize a literary evening whether at their home or at the home of others in the group they ask each participant to bring a bottle of wine or tonic (soda for non-New Englanders) in order to spare the hosts the entire cost of the evening. The host provide snacks but the participants are welcome to brings snacks too if they wish.

The Themes and the Readings

We have a list of selected authors for reading aloud.

The Trumbulls have maintained a record of every literary evening they organized which shows the date, location, theme, partcipants, and readings. The list is also indexed by participant and partially index by author. To see the historical record click here.

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