Barbara Holland’s Wasn’t the Grass Greener?

Author Barbara Holland’s books are frequently referenced here at The Hip Flask. Most importantly, her words were the inspiration for this blog’s inception, which builds in no small part on her philosophy on the importance of drinking and lamenting. Today, I recommend another book by Holland titled, Wasn’t the Grass Greener? Thirty-Three Reasons Why Life Isn’t as Good as It Used to Be.

This book (the latest entry to my Recommended Reading page) takes the form of a list: 33 people, activities, places, and home furnishings that represent a by-gone and sorely missed period of American history. Among these, and most importantly, are those items and ideas concerning drink, which thanks to Ms. Holland’s love of the bottle, are plentiful.

Most notably her book addresses the absence of taverns and liquor cabinets, which are each increasingly difficult to locate. Holland’s initial thoughts on taverns – in her sharp-witted prose – begin with Andy Capp:

“In Andy’s world there are only three scene changes—his pub, his living room, and the street in between. Sometimes he tries to entice a lass at the bar. Sometimes he brings his wife, to swap acid comments with the bartender. Sometime she awaits him at home, in curlers, with a rolling pin. The story line has a mythic simplicity, and endlessly repeated escapes to conviviality and returns to domesticity.”

Andy’s British attitude on booze, passing only between home and tavern, encapsulates perfectly Holland’s desire for America, the relationship a serious drinker should have with his favorite pub, tavern, or bar. And once you arrive at your favored location – if such a place still exists – Holland believes (as I’ve previously argued) that the television is largely responsible for ruining a quiet drink, alone or with friends.

“Television is noisy. It makes casual conversation an effort and confiding in bartenders too loud to be confidential. Even with the sound turned off, television is distracting. Images squirm around on the screen. A row of people at the bar, confronted by television, tend to ignore each other and stare at the set. The whole purpose of the tavern fades: why be here at all?”

If you choose or must drink at home, a well-stocked liquor cabinet is therefore necessary. Yet even this is becoming a vestige of another time, one that doesn’t center on fitness, efficiency, or productivity. A liquor cabinet was once a symbol of hospitality, where conversations began and acquaintances became friends. And it’s not only liquor cabinets that have disappeared in today’s modern houses, but pianos, desks, radiators and porches, even playing cards and other “old things” – whose sole purpose centered on relaxation, socialization, and deliberation.

Although I enjoyed Holland’s extensive reflections on all things alcohol, my favorite passage from this book was found in the chapter titled “Cities,” which provoked a chuckle when considering my family’s recent addition: “New York was where we wanted to live when we were finally grown up, and drink martinis and stay out past bedtime, not where we wanted to take the toddlers for a weekend of family values.” The God’s honest truth to be sure.


Please visit The Hip Flask’s Recommended Reading page for other books on drinking culture I’ve enjoyed.

Published in: on October 18, 2012 at 11:48 pm  Comments Off on Barbara Holland’s Wasn’t the Grass Greener?  
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