January 15, 2014

Library’s “Evenings With Friends” Series Blends Authors, Dinner, and Discussion

FIRST IN A SERIES: Merry White, noted cookbook author and anthropologist, kicks off this season of Princeton Public Library’s “Evenings With Friends” lineup on January 23.

FIRST IN A SERIES: Merry White, noted cookbook author and anthropologist, kicks off this season of Princeton Public Library’s “Evenings With Friends” lineup on January 23.

When the Friends of Princeton Public Library launched a new series called “Evenings With Friends” last year, they weren’t sure what to expect. But the program pairing author talks, drinks, and dinner was an immediate hit with patrons. The “Evenings” will resume Thursday, January 23, when Boston University anthropology professor Merry “Corky” White, author of the cookbook Cooking for Crowds, comes to the Library’s Community Room.

“The series has done so much better than we expected it to,” said Sherri Garber, president of Friends of the Princeton Public Library. “It’s a formula that seems to work, and it has brought a lot of new people into the library, which of course is good for fundraising.”

The Library’s Community Room is set up like a café for each event. Seated at tables set with tablecloths, patrons have drinks and a buffet dinner starting at 6:30 p.m. Speakers begin their talks at 7:30, and the evenings are over by 9 p.m. These gatherings are designed to be intimate, allowing patrons to not only listen, but also join in discussions with the authors. Afterward, Labyrinth Books sells books that the authors sign.

“What’s nice is that we limit the events to about 50 people,” Ms. Garber said. “Everyone can feel like they are part of the conversation.”

Ms. Garber has had help choosing the authors for the program from the Library’s Public Programming Librarian Janie Hermann. “Janie helps me decide. Then I just read, and write to people,” Ms. Garber said. “No one is paid. We basically run on a shoestring. The authors do it out of their love for public libraries. And if they happen to have a new book out, it’s good for publicity.”

Ms. White first published Cooking for Crowds in 1974. The book is back in print in a special 40th anniversary edition, with a new introduction by Ms. White and illustrations by frequent New Yorker cartoonist Edward Koren. The multi-faceted Ms. White has been a caterer and food journalist while teaching anthropology courses at Boston University, and is currently researching contemporary Japanese urban social spaces and focusing on the history of the cafe.

“She has some wonderful anecdotes she’ll be sharing with us,” Ms. Garber said. “Julia Child was her neighbor. Corky can tell us how she once catered a Roman orgy for Harvard professors. Her specialty is Japanese cultural anthropology, so there’s that, too.”

Booked for February 20 is Robert Wilson, author of Mathew Brady: Portraits of a Nation. This biography of the 19th century American photographer, famous for his graphic images of the American Civil War, captures Brady as a businessman, portrait artist, promoter, and historian whose images provided the first detailed photographic record of a war. Mr. Wilson teaches at Johns Hopkins, American, and George Mason universities, and has taught at the University of Virginia. He has been editor of The American Scholar since 2004 and previously edited Preservation magazine, among other publications.

Author William Helmreich comes to the Library March 26 to talk about his recent book The New York Nobody Knows: Walking 6,000 Miles in the City. A Manhattan native, he has walked every block of all five boroughs — 6,000 miles — in an effort to get to know the city and its inhabitants. The journey took four years and included talks with everyday citizens as well as former mayors Koch, Dinkins, Giuliani, and Bloomberg. Mr. Helmreich is a professor of sociology at the City University Graduate Center and City College of New York. His previous books include What Was I Thinking? The Dumb Things We Do and How to Avoid Them.

Princeton University professor Gary Bass, author of The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger, and a Forgotten Genocide, comes to the “Conversations” series on April 29. The book details the 1971 atrocities in Bangladesh that led to war between India and Pakistan and shaped the fate of Asia. Mr. Bass, who teaches politics and international affairs, is a former reporter for The Economist and has written for The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Los Angeles Times, and The New Republic. He is the author of Freedom’s Battle: The Origins of Humanitarian Intervention and Stay the Hand of Vengeance: The Politics of War Crimes Tribunals. 

Tickets to individual events are $50; the series of four costs $175. The series is first open to members of Friends of the Library, and then to all library cardholders.

“These are interesting evenings,” Ms. Garber said. “You learn things about these people you might not learn otherwise. And it’s all in a friendly, intimate setting that everyone seems to like.”