The average adult has enough literary knowledge to hold his own at cocktail parties when the talk turns to books. But a real reader would have no trouble identifying Humbert Humbert, Queequeg, Scarlet O'Hara, Bigger Thomas, or Mr. Kurtz. Nicole Klosterman is one such reader. She voraciously consumes books, mostly classics: Shakespeare, Beowulf, Oscar Wilde, Mark Twain. Some picture books. A few Newberry Award winners. She's read some books enough times to describe the plot-twists with photographic recall. She'll tell you what the characters ate, what music they listened to, when and why they had nervous breakdowns. Klosterman reads for pleasure and escape, but also as a means of preserving the craft. To her, reading is a private act with social dimensions.
A devout adoration for the written word led Klosterman to produce a series of reader's theater events, called "Literary Themed Cuisine." Each consists of a dinner based on a certain canonical text. For Heart of Darkness, she made a salad with roasted beets and hearts of palm, a couple Congolese dishes, and heart-shaped chocolate. She celebrated T.S. Eliot's The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock with crab cake. For Sunday's commemoration of J.D. Salinger's 1961 novel, Franny and Zooey, she'll serve a meal of chicken sandwiches and salad with garlic dressing. Klosterman culled those details directly from the book: Franny orders chicken salad while dining at a swank Yale student lunch spot with her boyfriend. Lane opts for frogs' legs and snails — a dish that Klosterman couldn't replicate. She chose the garlic dressing as an appropriate stand-in.
Sunday's event is the latest in a spate of similar book-themed shindigs. Since launching the series in 2009, Klosterman has covered a vast swath of AP English curricula. Her first-ever event was a trial run based on Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest (Klosterman hasn't disclosed the menu for that one, so we'll just hope it involved cucumber sandwiches). It proved successful, so Klosterman got more ambitious, adding costumes, art installations, and a dramatic component in which participants read parts of the text. Klosterman hewed several events to the theme of epic journeys, and chose the books accordingly: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Beowulf, Homer's Odyssey, and Where the Wild Things Are. She designed a dinner around Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time using candles and glow-in-the-dark objects. That one was a comedy of errors, she said: "We were burning ourselves reading the script."
Klosterman hopes such efforts will eventually propel her to the Fringe Theater Festival in New York, where she'll unveil a new surrealist project. In the meantime, she encourages Oakland to keep reading. Literary Themed Cuisine happens Sunday, March 28, at Royal Nonesuch Gallery (4231 Telegraph Ave., Oakland). 7-9 p.m., donations welcome. RoyalNoneSuchGalery.com