A few weeks ago, my family surprised me with a dinner party for my 30th birthday. I had no idea that any of this was coming, and the night just got more and more delightful as it went on. The theme, because my family knows and loves me, was “vintage library.” My mom went through all of my old books, getting lots of them out of storage, and found original recipes from lots of my favorites.
It was such a special night, so I thought I’d write about it for Book Riot to preserve the memory and share the fun. It feels a tiny bit silly to write a whole article that is “look how great my mom is and look how much fun we had,” but also, look how great my mom is and look what a great party she put together. I’ve pulled together some alternate ideas and gathered up my mom’s sources so you can throw your own library party.
First of all, you’re going to need some invitations. Since everything was very hush-hush for my party, the invitations all happened through whispers and email, but I did find some very cute library book card-themed invites, like these or these or these. But maybe whispered invitations are most appropriate for a library-themed party?
For decorations, more than anything, you’ll need books. Lots and lots of books. My mom has been collecting vintage books for as long as I can remember, so that part was easy. She cleared every available surface and brought stacks of old books in, with some of my childhood favorites front and center. It felt like being in the middle of a favorite used book shop, in the best way. If you don’t have a lot of older books around, watch for old hardcovers at garage and library sales. You can usually find old sets of Harvard Classics or old dictionaries for not too much money, and they look great in stacks for centerpieces, and then you get to keep them as pretty editions of Plato and Shakespeare. She brought in her antique typewriter and some old candle sticks and a mini globe and a bust or two to make the dining room feel like the kind of study you want to spend the afternoon in.
At each place-setting, my mom set a little votive candles with a shade she made out of a print-out of one of Louisa May Alcott’s hand-written manuscripts. If you’re not quite the fan of Louisa May Alcott that I am, here’s a collection of other original manuscripts, including Edith Wharton, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Lewis Carroll. She printed the manuscript out on vellum and did something like what is done in this YouTube video.
Everything we ate was something mentioned explicitly in one of my family’s favorite childhood books, and my mom and sisters went for the most authentic recipes they could find. We ate Puddleglum’s Cock-a-leekie soup from The Silver Chair, drank wine made from grapes mentioned in To Kill a Mockingbird, and my personal favorites were the Alice in Wonderland treacle tarts.
There was also Anne Shirley’s raspberry cordial, Emily Dickinson’s own coconut cake recipe, Marry Poppins’ shepherd’s pie, Nancy Drew’s Hannah’s apple pudding, and currant buns from The Secret Garden. My favorite may have been the treacle tart, but I think the currant buns and clotted cream were the real winner of the evening. (All of those links, by the way, are either to actual recipes or to the books that contained the recipes.)
After dinner, we played Authors, which turns out to be a lot like Go Fish (which, have you played Go Fish recently? It’s still a good game!) I was particularly excited to play Authors, since I know I remember kids playing it in books when I was little. (Possibly in Betsy-Tacy? I can’t remember for sure.) If you’re looking for other game ideas, here’s a great list of literary party games. The prizes were all wrapped in literary wrapping paper. (Prizes included the Out of Print library socks.)
As the guests left, they each received a favor bag with (in a library card pouch, of course) with a Jane Austen-scented travel candle, chocolate, a library card coaster, and a book mark. Each guest also got her own pair of librarian-approved cat-eye glasses.
So that’s my vintage library birthday party. It was such a fun night with some of my favorite people, and I hope it gave you some ideas for a vintage library party of your own.