I've kept a guest book ever since I started throwing dinner parties at home in New York City 13 years ago. The dining table in that first apartment may have been small—it was my coffee table, actually, and my chairs were backless and ground-level (i.e., they were the floor)—but there was always a guest book.
Something about the term "guest book" makes it sound stuffy, but I assure you that, unlike grape shears or a cake breaker, guest books deserve a place in this century.
My guest book isn't fancy—it's paperback, not leather-bound, and there's certainly no stand for it—and I don't require that my guests write anything particularly meaningful in it. In fact, they don't have to write anything at all: signatures, drawings, stickers, favorite quotes, lewd poems ... All of these can be found in my current book, volume three, plus one Bahamian dollar with Sir Lynden Oscar Pindling's face on it, slipped between the pages by a friend fresh off of vacation.
There's no amusing story about how this tradition started; it just occurred to me that it might be fun. Remember fun? It's fun to look back over all the silly messages people wrote me, remembering those evenings and the people with whom they were spent. It's fun for my guests to show off their creativity.
It's also fun to get sleep. And that's the final purpose of the guest book: Its arrival at the table signals that soon, it will be time for everyone to go home.
Guest Book Pointers
Keep It Low-Key
The book doesn't have to be expensive. Mine is made by a Japanese company called Life and costs less than a Brooklyn pizza. Life Noble Notebook, $13 at amazon.com
Give It Time
When you present the book to the group, make sure there's ample time for each guest to write while also participating in the conversation. Say something like, "This is a book I like people to sign. Do with it what you will!" That lets them know it's a low-pressure situation.
Save It for Later
These are personal messages for you; there's no need to read them aloud. Plus, part of the fun is saving the love notes for a rainy day, when you need a little pick-me-up.