Post-Pandemic Entertaining: 13 Books to Inspire You

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Stacey Megally

Staff Writer

Stacey Megally is a writer, runner, and incurable bookworm. Her writing has been featured in The Dallas Morning News, Running Room Magazine, The Bookwoman, and on stage at LitNight Dallas and the Oral Fixation live storytelling show. When she isn’t knee-deep in words or marathon training, she’s hanging out with her smart, funny husband and their two extremely opinionated dogs. Instagram: @staceymegallywrites

Post-pandemic entertaining: if the very thought both thrills and terrifies you, you’re probably not alone. Haven’t we all said, “Do I even remember how that works?” about things we used to take for granted before 2020? But connecting more comfortably and more often with friends and family is something all of us — even those of us who secretly love the idea of entire weekends stuck at home with our books — can’t wait to do.

Still, it’s been a while since most of us planned anything bigger than a small, distanced, BYOB gathering on the patio. Whom do we invite? What should we serve? What will we do? Is it worth the trouble? If you find the idea of hosting family and friends pre-pandemic style overwhelming, we’ve rounded up 13 books to help you seamlessly transition into post-pandemic entertaining. Best of all? You don’t have to give up your much beloved excuse to spend more time with books.

Post-Pandemic Entertaining: Books to Inspire Your Guest List

Whether you thrive on the company of 50 of your closest friends or you crave more time with just enough people to fit around your table, you’ll want to put some thought into your guest list.

If you’ve found yourself rethinking the company you keep over the past year, consider the perspective of someone who went through just the same thing before the pandemic:

Belong: Find Your People, Create Community, and Live a More Connected Life by Radha Agrawal

When Radha Agrawal found herself feeling more isolated than ever, despite being connected to hundreds of people through the internet, she set out to establish more meaningful connections. After a transformative journey that included co-founding a movement called Daybreaker, which involves getting up at the crack of dawn to meet other people and dance, Agrawal identified a two-step process for finding fulfilling connections. She guides readers to first look inward in order to figure out what they want and what they can offer in a rewarding friendship. Then, she gives suggestions on how to go out and meet people who want the same things.

Once you’ve sent out the invitations, make sure to keep your guests top of mind while planning the event logistics. This book has a few ideas about how to do it:

The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters by Priya Parker

How can we avoid throwing another predictable, forgettable event? Priya Parker suggests everyone stop relying on old routines and conventions of parties, conferences, and meetings, and focus instead on the people at the center of our gatherings. As a facilitator of events all around the world, Parker details how simple changes can transform a gathering from lackluster to memorable. Whether you’re planning an office meeting, dinner party, or backyard cookout, you’ll be inspired to create an experience that gives both the host and the guests opportunities to connect in rewarding ways.

Post-Pandemic Entertaining: Books to Inspire Your Party Space

Perhaps you’re not quite ready for a full-blown party indoors. Or maybe, after a year of outdoor, distanced get-togethers, you’ve rediscovered your love for nature. Either way, now that the weather is warming up, an outdoor gathering is a great option.

Whether you’re taking the celebration to the park, the beach, a campsite, or you’re staying in your own yard, this book has you covered:

Williams-Sonoma Outdoor Entertaining by George Dolese

This beautiful and comprehensive guide is designed to help you plan stylish outdoor get-togethers down to the last detail. Each of its seven sections includes everything you need for a complete gathering, including a beach picnic, a poolside cocktail party, a garden brunch, a backyard barbecue, and more. Recreate one of the suggested parties or mix and match the fail-proof seasonal recipes, simple and effective serving presentations, step-by-step decorating and lighting ideas, and detailed work plans. 

If your perfect party revolves around the kitchen, but you want to move the whole thing outside, Linda Ly’s latest cookbook will become your go-to guide: 

The Ultimate Outdoor Cookbook: All-Day Meals and Drinks for Backyard Entertaining and Elevated Camping Fare by Linda Ly

In addition to getting more than 100 easy-to-prepare recipes curated from Ly’s previously published best-selling cookbooks, you’ll learn how to cook every meal, snack, and drink of the day outdoors. Discover all the ins and outs of cooking with grills, planchas, smokers, foil packs, cast iron pans, dutch ovens — and, perhaps most ambitiously, over flames. Ly includes practical tips on how to build and work with different types of fire, so you can cook fresh and exciting food for your guests whether you’re in the deep woods or in your own backyard.

Don’t want to limit your celebrations to the outdoors? Here’s a book to help you get every inch of your home party-ready:

A Home for All Seasons: Gracious Living and Stylish Entertaining by Danielle Rollins

How do you make guests feel at home in every room in the house? Danielle Rollins, expert hostess and designer, shows you. Before you even start party planning, you’ll learn how to make the most of each room in your home, so that when the guests show up, they’ll be treated to an organized, beautiful space with seamless color schemes that encourage a happy and relaxed vibe. The author also includes tablescapes and ideas for special occasions.

Once your space is ready to receive guests, it’s time to think about maximizing the fun with this time-tested book:

Barefoot Contessa Parties! Ideas and Recipes for Easy Parties That Are Really Fun by Ina Garten

Renowned cook and entertainer, Ina Garten, wants your guests leaving your party saying, “Wasn’t that fun!” Through personal anecdotes, recipes, preparation plans, and tips she’s learned over the years, Garten shares her secrets to throwing parties that will not only offer your guests delicious food that’s right for the season, but also keep them engaged and happy. Most importantly, she tries to keep planning simple, so you can spend the party enjoying your guests instead of sweating over complicated recipes.

Indoors or outdoors, your party deserves the very best food and beverage pairings, whether your guests are enjoying wine, beer, spirits, or non-alcoholic drinks. Get expert advice on all of it from America’s best sommeliers: 

What to Drink with What You Eat by Karen Page, Andrew Dornenburg, and Michael Sofronski (Contributor)

All food, from Michelin-starred bites to fast-food fried chicken, has its perfect beverage pairing. Consult this guide, which includes 70 full-color photos, for practical advice from award-winning chefs and top sommeliers. You’ll learn to consider not only the specific food, but also the time of day, season, personal mood, and more in planning your beverage offerings. Although the focus is on wine, these experts also have pairing recommendations for beer, spirits, coffee, tea, and water, so all your guests will get the most out of their meals.

Post-Pandemic Entertaining: Books to Inspire Party Themes

There’s nothing wrong with having a get-together just because. But it’s nice to have a unifying idea to build your party around. Whether you’re celebrating a life milestone, a seasonal event, or a shared passion, these books will help get your creative juices flowing.

As the title suggests, this book is chock-full of ideas for celebrating almost anything:

Celebrate Everything! Fun Ideas to Bring Your Parties to Life by Darcy Miller

Celebration expert Darcy Miller takes you through some of the most memorable parties she’s planned, sharing original ideas, recipes, and D.I.Y. crafts to help you throw your own themed gathering. Peruse the author’s inspiring illustrations to spark your imagination, so you can add a special, personalized touch to every shower, birthday, and anniversary.

No list like this would be complete without a book dedicated to holiday entertaining. Of course, there are a plethora of cookbooks filled with holiday recipes — including Allison Walsh’s A Literary Holiday Cookbook: Festive Meals for the Snow Queen, Gandalf, Sherlock, Scrooge, and Book Lovers Everywhere. But we all know that most of the stress around that time of year stems from our efforts to stay organized. And because your first foray into post-pandemic entertaining may come during the 2021 holiday season, we’ve found a book that will help:

The No-Stress Holiday Organizer: An All-in-One Guide to Planning and Recording Your Holidays by Cedar Fort staff

From the lead-up to Thanksgiving all the way through New Year’s Day, life during the holidays can feel like a whirlwind — especially if you’re planning on entertaining. This book is filled with calendars, checklists, budget sheets, and journal pages that are designed to keep you on top of everything. After all, your focus should be on enjoying the holiday, and more importantly, on savoring time with your guests.

But before the holidays, there’s football season—a time of year filled with a different kind of cheer. Not ready to venture out into stadium parking lots to tailgate? This book helps you enjoy all of it without leaving home:

Game-Day Eats: 100 Recipes for Homegating Like a Pro by Eddie Jackson

Former pro football star and celebrity chef Eddie Jackson shares his two top passions — cooking and football — with readers everywhere. No matter your skill level, you can tackle these 100 inventive and satisfying recipes inspired by Jackson’s favorite flavors from all over the country. Each one includes beautiful full-color photos and steps that can be done ahead of time or quickly on the day of. When game time rolls around, you’ll be able to sit back and enjoy every bite, every play, and every guest.

Post-Pandemic Entertaining: Books to Inspire the Host

What else do you need besides a guest list, a location, a theme, and a menu? You. The key to any good party is the host.

If all the planning has sent you into a tailspin, you’ll appreciate this out-of-the-box approach from Whoopi Goldberg:

The Unqualified Hostess: I Do It My Way So You Can Too! by Whoopi Goldberg

Goldberg is on a mission to convince you that you already have everything you need in your house right now to throw a memorable party. Drawing from her own experiences, Goldberg offers unconventional ideas like getting your flowers from the bodega around the corner, using toys or quirky heirlooms as party decor, and spending a little time to make the bathroom look special. When it comes to being a hostess, Goldberg sums it up this way: “It’s about fun, not perfection!”

Then again, maybe for you, the best hosting inspiration comes from literature. After all, some of the most spectacular — and interesting — celebrations are fictional. So, before your next party, get pumped up by rereading your favorite literary party scene. If you’re looking for inspiration beyond the definitive party book, The Great Gatsby, here are a couple novels to check out.

Your gathering might just spark a bit of romance the way it did in this story:

White Teeth by Zadie Smith

A wild New Year’s party sets Zadie Smith’s debut novel into motion. When Archie Jones ambles in, he meets Clara, a woman who will change his life. Their marriage, along with the marriage of Archie’s best friend, Samad, is at the center of the journey for these two North London families whose lives become intertwined as they navigate through life’s triumphs, betrayals, secrets revealed, and tests of faith and cultural identity.

Expecting guests with a flare for the histrionic? Get ready by reading a few scenes from this novel:

cover of Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee

The Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee

Opera sensation Lilliet Bernet is talented, dramatic, and determined to find out which composer betrayed her by writing a libretto that exposes her deepest and darkest secret. Many of the novel’s inciting incidents unfold at parties where anything could happen. In fact, author Alexander Chee was so thoughtful about the way he crafted his party scenes, he ended up writing an entire article about it.

Now that you’re armed with all the books you need for post-pandemic entertaining, life is about to get a lot more fun — and maybe even a little more literary. Here’s to unforgettable parties and the stories they bring! 

Looking for more cookbooks to perfect your party menu? Make this your next stop.