Although I haven’t added to my Recommended Reading section in some time – I’ve been chewing through several non-drinking-related books this spring and summer* – a few new works on boozing may soon change that fact.
Over the last week or so, I’ve learned of three new books (two just published) that I’d like to add to the informally categorized “Food and Drink” section of my library.
According to Max Watman, writing in the Wall Street Journal, The Audacity of Hops, by Tom Acitelli, is an “exhaustive chronicle of the American beer revolution” beginning with Anchor Steam Beer’s creation during the summer of 1965. The book tells the grand story of American micro-brewing: “all of the major players are here—Sierra Nevada, Geary, Bell’s—and many readers will flip through in search of their favorite brews or their favorite anecdotes.” Just as importantly, the book traces how Americans decided they wanted better beer, telling “the story of the maturation and increased sophistication of the American palate.”
Unfortunately maturation and sophistication can sometimes lead to excess. And the association between drinking and literature (i.e., sophistication) might not as be as rosy as we often think; so surmises Ian Crouch in a New Yorker blog entry discussing The Lost Weekend, by Charles Jackson. There are no jokes or clever comments to be made of alcoholism, and Crouch disconnects the allure of reading while drinking by mistakenly choosing to read Jackson’s novel over a pint.
“On this weekend, Don [Jackson's protagonist] suffers cruel hangovers, tremors, hallucinations, and a terrible, maiming fall down the stairs that leaves him in the alcoholic ward for the night…As his body falls apart, the novel tightens into a frightening psychological claustrophobia, and the reader is faced with all the little lies that Don tells himself and all the disappointments that no amount of alcohol can blot out.”
Counterbalancing Jackson’s fictionalized account of his own tragic experience with the bottle is Dwight Garner’s New York Times review of The Wet and the Dry: A Drinker’s Journey, by Lawrence Osborne. Tippling on multiple continents is Osborne’s clever method of considering “East and West, this supposed clash of civilizations…to think of them as ‘Wet and Dry, Alcoholic and Prohibited.’”
Based on Garner’s few quotations, Osborne’s British wit shines while conversing with locals over tea, chatting with Lebanese warlords who moonlight as wine makers, or mocking “certain lifestyle editors” (of which Garner appears to take gleeful delight in).
Yet humanity is the key to understanding both our non-drinking fellow man as well as those who struggle to drink within their limits. “Mr. Osborne is aware that it is possible to take drinking too far, and he has sympathy for those who have become its victims. He is grateful not to be among them, to mostly be able to regulate his desires…as a real human being indeed – a complicated man mixing complicated feelings into fizzy, adult, intoxicating prose.”
* For the curious, or those with an interest in history, I’ve recently enjoyed the following books:
K Blows Top, by Peter Carlson – A comedic look at Sergei Krushchev’s 1959 tour across the U.S.
The Crimean War: A History, by Orlando Figes – A deep look into the little-known mid-19th Century Eurasian conflict.
The Way of the Knife: The CIA, a Secret Army, and a War at the Ends of the Earth, by Mark Mazzetti – An overview of several notable counterterrorism operations of the past decade.
An Armenian Sketchbook, by Vassily Grossman – A short chronicle of the Soviet author’s few months in Central Asia.