Drinking: a Love Story

Knapp, Caroline. Drinking: a Love Story.New York: the Dial Press, 1996.

Reason read: Prohibition was repealed in December

It is difficult to ready any story about a fall from grace, especially one written as honestly and bluntly as Caroline Knapp’s. The story winds its way around different out-of-control drinking; when Knapp drank, why she thought she drank so much, the people she affected with her drinking, the denials along the way. At times her stories seemed repetitive and meandering but that perception comes from the why of it all. Knapp was clearly in pain and had trouble rationalizing her rage. She brought two points home: you don’t need to have suffered a trauma to become addicted to anything and once you recognize your problem, your addiction is never again a normalized behavior. In the world of alcohol, most people think nothing of having a cocktail with friends, a beer after work. All of that became off limits to Knapp once she accepted her addiction. IAnd speaking of addiction, it is clear Knapp had an addictive personality. She was drawn to obsessions and performed rituals while drinking, rituals about food consumption to the point of anorexia, rituals in how she fought with her boyfriends. Even after sobriety, Knapp was drawn to obsessions concerning cleanliness and being constantly aware of how large a role alcohol plays in our society. Even the words “champagne bunch” grated on her abstinence. This latter point I often refer to as the “pregnant woman” syndrome. Fearing pregnancy or craving pregnancy causes one to see pregnant women everywhere. It’s all in the level of need want. In the end, Knapp was resolved to take one day at a time. She couldn’t set large goals for herself while her drinking was larger than her resolve. She was smart to know that every day was a major victory. Her story ends unresolved but hopeful.

As an aside, someone went through my copy of Drinking and marked a bunch of interesting passages. Here are a few, “Perception versus reality. Outside versus inside” (p 15), “”It is not so much that people like me hide the truth about our drinking from others (which most of us do, and quite effectively); it’s that we hide from others (and often ourselves) the truth about our real selves, about who we really are when we sit in our offices dashing off memos and producing papers and preparing presentations, about what is really churning beneath the surface” (p 16-17), and “…tension would hang over the room like a fog, a preoccupied silence that always made me feel wary, as though something bad was about to happen” (p 36).
My favorite line was “Add venom and stir, my own personal recipe for rage” (p 168).

Author fact: As I was checking out other reviews for Drinking I kept noticing reviewers would refer to Knapp in the past tense, “she was a writer.” Turns out, she died of lung cancer when she was just 42 years old. Strange how her smoking wasn’t really part of the story, and yet it was another addiction.

Book trivia: no photographs.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Lost Weekends” (p 147).


Pick-Up

Willeford, Charles. Pick-Up. Crime Novels: American Noir of the 1950s. New York: Library of America, 1999.

Harry Jordan, 32, is a down-and-out alcoholic working as a counter man in a diner when he meets 33 year old Helen Meredith. There is an instant attraction. While Harry doesn’t relish the idea of being a drunk, he can spot one a mile away, and Helen is just his type. They soon strike up a pitiful relationship. Both are out of work, both have severed ties with family and friends. The only thing they have together is a love for the bottle. When Harry decides suicide is their only way out things go from bad to worst. Deep down, Harry is a decent man who feebly attempts to do the right thing and never succeeds.

Lines I liked, “Love is in what you do, not in what you say” (p 423), “you watch them overshadow you until you are nothing except a shadow within a shadow and then lost altogether in the unequal merger” (p 445) and “Tears in a bar are not unusual” (p 567).

Reason read: Pick-Up  is one of the stories in Crime Novels which I am reading in honor of National Crime Prevention week.

Author fact: Charles Willeford is a war hero of World War II. He received a Purple Heart.

Book trivia: Pick-Up was originally written in 1955. Willeford’s writing is so clean you can just picture the era perfectly.

BookLust Twist: from Crime Novels: American Noir listed in Book Lust in the chapter called “Les Crime Noir” (p 65).


Dec ’12 was…

December 2012 was a decidedly difficult month. I don’t mind admitting it was stressful and full of ups and downs. How else can I describe a period of time that contained mad love and the quiet urge to request freedom all at once? A month of feeling like the best thing on Earth and the last person anyone would want to be with? I buried myself in books to compensate for what I wasn’t sure I was feeling. And I won’t even mention the Sandy twins. But wait. I just did.

  • The Wholeness of a Broken Heart by Katie Singer ~ in honor of all things Hanukkah. This was by far my favorite book of the month.
  • Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner ~ in honor of Iowa becoming a state in December. This was a close second.
  • The Tattered Cloak and Other Novels by Nina Berberlova ~ in honor of the coldest day in Russia being in December. I read a story every night.
  • Big Mouth & Ugly Girl by Carol Joyce Oates ~ in honor of Oates being born in December. I was able to read this in one sitting.
  • The Women of the Raj by Margaret MacMillan ~ in honor of December being one of the best times to visit India
  • Rosalind Franklin: Dark Lady of DNA by Brenda Maddox ~ in honor of Franking being born in December
  • Billy by Albert French ~ in honor of Mississippi becoming a state in December
  • Apples are From Kazakhstan by Christopher Robbins ~ in honor of Kazakhstan gaining its independence in December.

In an attempt to finish some “series” I read:

  • Lives of the Painters, Sculptors and Architects, Vol 3  by Giorgio Vasari (only one more to go after this, yay!)
  • Strong Poison by Dorothy L. Sayers

For audio here’s what I listened to:

  • The Galton Case by Ross MacDonald ~ this was laugh-out-loud funny
  • Bellwether by Connie Willis ~ in honor of December being Willis’s birth month

For the Early Review Program with LibraryThing here’s what I read:

  • Drinking with Men: a Memoir by Rosie Schaap

And here’s what I started:

  • Gold Coast Madam by Rose Laws

For fun: Natalie Merchant’s Leave Your Sleep.


Drinking with Men

Schaap, Rosie. Drinking with Men: a Memoir. New York: Riverhead Books, 2013.

One of the very first things you will notice about Drinking with Men is that it is 100% unapologetic. Schaap makes some pretty decent arguments for finding a bar to call your own…even if you are a single woman (stereotypes be damned). Then all of a sudden it hits you, Schaap can really write. She is funny, sarcastic, and above all, a great storyteller. In most cases the introduction to anything is an invitation to yawn. I am not ashamed to say most of the time I skip an introduction to everything. Not this time. Schaap’s introduction is almost a warning, as if to say “Hang on because I am about to tell it like it is. I. Like. To. Drink.” and she tells it with such ease that you keep reading and keep reading. You don’t realize you have let dinner burn, the cats have moved out and your husband has ordered and finished the pepperoni pizza all on his own.

I try not to dabble with discrepancies but when reading about her friend Ed I couldn’t help but notice she intermittently called him Al. Was that something I failed to find the explanation for or what? Truth be known I didn’t go back to see what I missed. I just kept reading.

Favorite lines: I have a few but I’m not sure if they’ll remain in the finished publication so I’ll refrain from exposing them. Weak, I know.

Reason read: Early review program for LibraryThing.

I am hijacking this review for a second: Now seems like a good time to add that I have decided to change how and when I read Early Review/LibraryThing books. Because their arrival to my doorstep is extremely unpredictable I am no longer going to confine myself to reading them within the month received. It just doesn’t work. What if I get a book on December 21st? the old system would have me trying to choke it down in nine days. Because it came in December I was of the mindset it needed to be read in December. Enough of that. Despite it’s arrival date I will take as long as I need to finish it. One rule stays true though – if there is a expected publish date I have to finish at least two weeks before.


Call Me When You Land

Schiavone, Michael. Call Me When You Land. New York: Permanent Press, 2011.

If Nancy Pearl had to categorize this book for one of the chapters in Book Lust this would easily fit into either her “Families in Trouble” or “First Novel” chapter. If she had to categorize this book as a selection in More Book Lust it could easily fit into her “Men Channeling Women” chapter. First, there’s Katie Olmstead. Alcoholic, artist, single mother slowly losing her grip on reality. Then there’s Katie’s reality, C.J., the angst-ridden son. C.J. is uncommunicative, lonely and lost. Finally, there’s great-uncle Walter. Coughing up blood, stoned, patient and pathetic. Parsing out words of wisdom to said mother and son while quietly raging against his own frailty. Spoiler: he disappears from the story halfway through; a disappointment because he was the glue that held mother and son together.
All of these characters fit an eye-rolling stereotypical mold. Katie, in a spurt of mothering, makes her son breakfast. C.J. isn’t used to seeing his mom awake much less standing at that hour is skeptical and more than a little suspicious. Their dialogue is full of cliche zingers like, “what’s your deal this morning?” and “I’m not poisoning you.” Character development is minimal. People like Peter and Caroline pop up without introduction. There is a lot of backtracking to fill in the blanks.
To be honest I read this book like it reads: in fits and starts. It wasn’t the kind of book I could read for hours on end without coming up for air. I was beyond frustrated by all the name brand products. Aquafina, Alka-Seltzer, Aleve, Advil, Best Buy, Barolo, Benadryl, Ben & Jerry’s, Coors, Claratin, Cabernet, Capri Sun, Chips Ahoy, Clearasil, Dunkin Donuts, Disney, Dewars, Diet Coke, Dairy Queen, Desitin, Dolce & Gabbana, Emergen-C, Eggos, Febreze, Fruit Rollup, Gap, Gatorade, Grand Marnier, Halo 3, Hydroxycut, Hot Pocket, iPhone, J. Crew, Joy, Keds, Kools, Kleenex, Liz Claiborne, Mountain Dew, McDonalds, Marc Jacobs, Odwalla, Pepsi, Pellogrino, Palmolive, Prozac, Ray-Bans, Ritalin, Rockstar, Rice-a-Roni, Ragu, StairMaster, Starbucks, Sprite, Snuggie, Shiraz, Splenda, SeaWorld, Timberland, Tylenol, Trader Joe’s, Target, Tag, Tuff, Tropicana, Tanquerey, Under Armour, Visine, Vasaline. I know I could list a dozen more. If this were a movie the product placement would be nauseating. Writing should be timeless. If the products aren’t around ten years from now the piece becomes dated and clunky. There is the danger of alienating the reader as well. Not everyone will know what Halo 3 or Rockstar is. Something gets lost in translation when the product is the punchline to a funny line.

What I liked best about Call Me When You Land is the potential for a happy ending. The promise of change is hanging in the air. Differences are happening and that’s all that matters.


April ’11 was…

April was a gentle thaw in more ways than one. My grandfather finally passed away. I have to admit, the event was bittersweet. Saying goodbye was easier than I expected, if only because I knew, for him, life on this earth had ceased to be everything it could be. It was time. April was also the end of snow (although Maine still had giant piles of dirty, dripping snow in places). For books it was alot of really good stuff:

  • Flint’s Law by Paul Eddy ~ read in April to finish the series started last month (although there is a third Flint book that is NOT on the challenge list that I want to read…
  • “Two Tramps at Mud Time” by Robert Frost ~ in honor of April being poetry month and Monhegan’s mud season.
  • A Drinking Life: a Memoir by Peter Hamill ~ in honor of April being Alcohol Awareness Month. This was my first audio book for the BL Challenge and here’s the cool thing – I didn’t feel like I was cheating! Yay!
  • “The Exorcist of Notre-Dame” by David Kirby ~ in honor of Poetry month.
  • Alice Springs by Nikki Gemmell ~ in honor of Australia and April being the best time to visit. This was lyrical and brassy. Just the way I like ’em.
  • “The Bells are Ringing for Me and Chagall” by Terence Winch ~ in honor of poetry month. Sexy poem by the way!
  • Great Fortune: the Epic of Rockefeller Center by Daniel Okrent ~ in honor of April being Architecture Month. This was fun to read because it ended up being about more than a building.
  • “At Marlborough House” by Michael Swift ~ in honor of Poetry month.
  • Journey Beyond Selene: Remarkable Expeditions Past Our Moon and to the Ends of the Solar System by Jeffrey Kluger ~ in honor of April being the anniversary month of Apollo.
  • “Blue Garden” by Dean Young~ in honor of Poetry month.
  • Bear Went over the Mountain by William Kotzwinkle ~ in honor of April Fool’s Day and something silly.
  • “Goodbye, Place I Lived Nearly 23 Years” by Dean Young ~ in honor of Poetry month
  • “Skin of Our Teeth” a play by Thornton Wilder ~ in honor of April being National Brothers Month.
  • “By a Swimming Pool Outside Siracusa” by Billy Collins ~ in honor of Poetry month
  • “Dear Derrida” and “Strip Poker” by David Kirby ~ in honor of Poetry Month

For the Early Review Program (LibraryThing) it was The Good Daughter: a Memoir of My Mother’s Hidden Life by Jasmin Darznik.


A Drinking Life

Hamill, Pete. A Drinking Life. Narrated by Jonathan Davis. Prince Frederick: Recorded Books, 2003.

As a first-time audio book listener, here are my perceptions: there are pros and cons to listening to an audio book. For the cons, it is less imaginative when someone fills in the voices and sounds effects of the story. You also can’t take note of a favorite line or phrase. Things that make you laugh out loud are between your ears and not on a page you can quote from later. You miss out on illustrations, photographs, the feel of paper between your fingers as you don’t get to turn the pages…
But here is the benefit to an audio book: you can walk for hours and hours on a treadmill and be thoroughly entertained. Such is my life in the middle of April. But, a review:

A Drinking Life is an odyssey. It is an autobiographical examination of alcoholism where the drinking escalates slowly, sip by sip, drink by drink. For me, it dragged on in places. Hamill spends two thirds of the book setting the stage for his lead performance as an alcoholic. Starting with Hamill’s early childhood in the early 1940s he recounts his formative years living with his Irish parents in Brooklyn, New York. His father’s own battle with the bottle is omnipresent, a constant in Hamill’s life. That lays the groundwork for the excuses Hamill will make and his ultimate drinking downfall. Bars and beer are in the background as Hamill describes other obsessions in his life: comics as a child, newspapers, art and fighting as a teen, sex throughout the ages, and later as an adult, traveling, politics and writing.  Alcohol is the one constant through it all.

I am going to sound like a prim, prissy, panties-in-a-wad puss, but I really believe A Drinking Life should have come with a disclaimer. Rap artists have to slap a sticker announcing “explicit” when they swear, mention drugs or sex, on an album and yet Pete Hamill can do all those things, describe sex scenes with detailed wild abandon, he can use every swear word (included the dreaded “c” word), and remember violent beatings he would receive and give…all without some kind of heads up to the reader.

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called “Lost Weekends” (p 147).


April ’11 is…

April marks the start of new ideas, new ways of thinking. Actually, the ideas sprouted in March but April is the month for seriously taking action. Idea #1 – probably the one I am the most conflicted about – A U D I O books. Yes, audio books. After nearly five years I am breaking my own rule. I must have known it would come to this because if you note, I say in this rule I will try to read the book rather than listen to audio or watch a video interpretation…It’s like I knew it would come to this. I guess I would like to think for the month of April I am breaking down and trying something new. This doesn’t come about because I didn’t try. Try, I did. Walking and reading don’t necessarily go together, especially on a treadmill. I know, ‘cuz I’ve tried. Since I can’t give up the training and I refuse to give up the reading I needed to find a compromise. I have. In the form of someone reading to me. So, without further delay, here is the list for April:

  • Flint’s Law by Paul Eddy. Finishing the series I started last month.
  • “At Marlborough House” by Michael Swift ~ in honor of April being poetry month I plan to read a poem in between each book.
  • Bear Went Over the Mountain by William Kotzwinkle ~ in honor of April Fools Day
  • “Two Tramps in Mud Time” by Robert Frost ~ in honor of poetry month.
  • A Drinking Life by Pete Hamill ~ in honor of April being Alcohol Awareness month. This is the book I will try to listen to instead of read…
  • “The Discovery of Daily Experience” by William Stafford ~ in honor of poetry month
  • Great Fortune: the Epic of Rockefeller Center by Daniel Okrent ~ in honor of National Architect month. What better way to celebrate architecture than with a book about one of the best known structures out there?
  • “Blue Garden” by Dean Young ~ in honor of poetry month
  • Alice Springs by Nikki Gemmell ~ in honor of April being the best time to visit Australia

For Librarything and the Early Review program I have The Good Daughter: a Memoir of My Mother’s Hidden Life by Jasmin Darznik. It (finally) came in the middle of last month.


Maybe You Should Drive

The name of a Barenaked Ladies album (my favorite as a matter of fact)…or what Kisa heard the night of the wedding. Both, actually.

Kisa had been king driver since day one. He got us from Vegas to Long Beach; from Long Beach to San Diego; from our hotel to anywhere we wanted to go. All without complaint. All without a single utterance of “maybe you should drive.” He drew the line at mall chauffeuring, though. He got us there but refused to sit in a parking lot. It was our last full day in Diego, after all. He wasn’t about to wander a mall no different from the ones we have at home. “Call me when you need a pick-up” he cheerfully offered as we piled out of the car. “Okay.” I was equally as cheerful even though I knew my last day in Diego was going to be spent shopping (I’ve come to the conclusion if you’ve seen one Michaels, you’ve seen them all).

Later that evening Kisa confided to me that he’d had enough of driving. He was looking forward to cutting back on chaffeuring and cutting loose at the wedding. How many times had the groom told him he had a special beer for him? I wasn’t confident it would work out. In a family of drinkers sober drivers are really hard to come by.
Somehow we managed to hitch a ride with an aunt. No driving for kisa. So far so good. Maybe he would get to enjoy himself after all. I know what you are thinking. What about you? Couldn’t you drive? For those of you who don’t know me I don’t drink a drop and get behind the wheel of a car. Ever. Not one sip. Kisa is too kind to deny me a glass of wine at my cousin’s wedding. Having me escort was out of the question.

So, back to the party. The reception was raging. People dancing. People laughing. The music was rocking. We were having a great time. Kisa was on his third or fourth beer of the night. A drop compared to what others can put away. There we were, staring at the black harbor, enjoying the gentle rocking of yachts in the marina. A full glass of beer in Kisa’s hand. We had come out for a breath of fresh air. All of a sudden he feels a tap on his shoulder…”Say,” says a voice, “are you driving us back? Hint, hint.” I could feel Kisa’s defeat as he exclaimed “yeah, sure” and dumped out his full beer. I felt awful (as I was working on wine #2). As word spread “Drink up! J’s driving us home!” people began to approach Kisa to confirm. Each time he responded his speech became more slurred and giggly. He was just messing with them, but it was funny to see their eyes grow wide. You could almost hear their brains working, “is he really okay to drive?”

Of course he was. Kisa always drives.


Charming Billy

Charming BillyMcDermott, Alice. Charming Billy. New York: Delta Trade, 1998.

I wonder how many people clicked on this blog and thought it would be something a little different? There is more than enough I could say about charming anyone named Billy! Dare I laugh out loud?

Charming Billy is a National Book Award winner. A New York Times bestseller. A movie (again, one I’ve never seen). So it’s no wonder I could say I tore through this book, devoured it in three day’s time. Standing in line, waiting for a sandwich, I read. Stuck in traffice and stalled at super long red lights, I read. Riding shotgun while Kisa was the commuter King, I read. On hold during a tedius teleconference, I read. You get the point. Every chance I got, this book was raised in front of my face. I even walked on the treadmill, barefoot and still in a skirt, book held high in front of my bobbing eyes. That’s not to say it’s a quick read. It’s not a simple book. In all actuality the language is so beautiful it should be read slowly, a few times over. Take the opening chapter, for example. It’s an entire gossipy conversation about a dead man after his funeral. The mourners who have gathered for a restaurant luncheon begin to discuss the drink that killed our Charming Billy. The vitality and truth of that conversation put me at the table. I was there in the restaurant, listening in, passing the bread, leaning back to let the waiter fill my water glass.
It is at this luncheon that the narrator hears a debate about Billy’s heartbreak and the reason for the drink. Losing the love of his life causes Billy to “tilt that bottle in the air, tossing back more than [his] share.” Okay, I couldn’t resist quoting Natalie! The narrator is Billy’s cousin’s daughter. A clever choice for narrator because she is able to weave in her memories and recollections of stories passed around.

“If you loved him, then you told him at some point that he was killing himself and felt the way his indifference ripped through your affection” (p 4).
“…an alcoholic can always find a reason but never needs one” (p 35).
“I suppose there’ not much sense in trying to measure breadth and depth of your own parents’ romance, the course and tenacity of their love” (p 44). These are my favorite lines.

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust, the very first page. In the chapter, “A…My Name is Alice” Pearl lists all the “Alice” authors she adores. Alice McDermott is on the list.


Accidental Connoisseur

Accidental ConnoisseurOsborne, Lawrence. The Accidental Connoisseur: An Irreverent Journey Through the Wine World. New York: Fair Point Press, 2004.

Even though I don’t know much about wine and I probably wouldn’t have picked up this book if it weren’t for the challenge, I had to admit this: ILMAO. Lawrence Osborne has a great deal of fun with the punny, the witty, and the downright funny. Right off the bat, on page four, he had me giggling with “all drinks came under the Arabic word alcohol, essentially reducing them to a level of chemical sin, and none of them could be bought on Sunday.” Especially since we had downed a wine called Evil on vacation, thanks to Stacey. See below for the proof.

Even if you aren’t a wine drinker or even a wine liker, Osborne’s writing will amuse you. He has phrases that are somewhat identifiable as my own, “when the happiness of drinking overwhelms you, you cannot resist it” (p 21) and “Wine is 99% psychological, a creation of where you are and with whom” (p 22). This makes me sound wildly alcoholic, but bear with me a second. Think of any great seduction scene. Who is usually front and center (along with soft music and sexy candlelight)? Partners in  crime – a wine bottle and two wine glasses. I found that a glass of wine is definitely more pleasurable when enjoyed in the presence of good friends and equally good scenery.
Seriously, I learned a lot from this short book. For example, how you space the vines in each row determines the complexity of a wine (according to one grower). The theory is plants with less crowding don’t have to compete for sunlight and growth space. They are more relaxed and get this, less stressed out. You see, the more stressed out a plant is, the more psychotic it is. It’s this aggrivated state that develops the complexity of flavor. Got it? I learned a new wine word, too: terroir. Makes me think of ‘terror’ but whatever.

Other favorite parts: “”what do you taste?” “Grapes,” I said. “Good. That’s what’s in it!”” (p 97)

“If wine is sex, ” I said, “this is like yoga.”
“Yoga? You’re saying it’s like yoga?”… I’m not sure I get you there. You mean athletic?”
“Virtuous. Unsexy.”
“Ah, you mean American!” (p 101)

But, probably my favorite line is an obvious one, “Wine summons ghosts out of the cupboard” (p 228).

BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter “A Holiday Shopping List” (p 115). It’s true that I would buy this for the wine lover that I know, only I don’t think he drinks and reads. Is that a problem?
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