Hello, January! That magic time of year when weeks of unbridled decadence skid to a halt puddling into a big pile of regret and shame. It is time for a reckoning. (Doesn’t it feel like the holiday excuse period starts earlier and earlier? Using Labor Day as a free pass for excess is weaksauce. Nobody is buying “What the hell, it’s Labor Day!” as a valid reason to have cheese dip for breakfast. You do you. Just have the cheese dip. Why you gotta blame Labor Day?) January is the month when it’s time to rein in all those shenanigans and act like an adult, for Pete’s sake. Shed those extra pounds from all that gravy and chocolate. Return those superfluous gifts you overbought. In my case, January detox also commences the annual Big Cleanup, purging a year’s worth of crap that’s turned every surface of my living space into a junk drawer.
It was in the process of shoveling out one of those squirrel-nest piles that I found three fancy little books of cocktail recipes that I completely forgot that I owned. I probably had big intentions of featuring the books in some Pinterest-worthy, artfully arranged bar display with fancy empty antique bottles and brass corkscrews. I got really close to doing it, too, in that I bought these three books and shoved them in a drawer four years ago. Take THAT, Pinterest. Flipping through the books, I got to thinking about the tight relationship between writing and booze. Lots of authors like to bring the party to the page. Literature featuring booze is like a big liquor store: from cheap peach schnapps to pricey Scotch that smells like old socks, there is something for everyone. Here are some that made an impression on me.
The Great Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald) The Great Gatsby is the book that really showed America how to get lit. Main character Jay Gatsby, putting out bait to attract his former love and current neighbor rich girl Daisy Buchanan, turns his exclusive West Egg, Long Island estate into neighborhood central for a 24/7 throwdown. His party only has two rules: Look fabulous and make bad choices. In the words of F. Scott Fitzgerald, “everybody in the club getting tipsy.”* Fitzgerald knew a thing or two about parties, having codified uninhibited and licentious behavior in his collection of short stories, Tales Of The Jazz Age. For all of his literary success, Fitzgerald never felt a part of the elite American wealthy society that he made so famous. That bittersweet longing for inclusion is brilliantly expressed in the book’s narrator Nick Carraway’s attendance at Gatsby’s endless, gin-soaked party. Nick is there, he’s an invited guest, he is welcomed by his host, and yet he can’t shake the feeling that he’s still on the outside looking in. As if with his nose pressed against the glass, peering in the window, Nick walks us through the kind of inevitable debauchery that results when a party is underwritten by organized crime and sponsored by a lovesick pretender.
Tequila Mockingbird: Cocktails With A Literary Twist (Tim Federle) This book of cocktail concoctions proves there is a niche audience at the intersection of English Major Ave and Fully Stocked Bar St. I always thought I was the only person who lived at that address but LOOK. I HAVE ROOMMATES. Page after page of beverages, all inspired by and named for classic works of literature? SQUEEEEEE. Eventually, I’ll get around to making one of the many outstanding drinks in this book, but for now, it’s not necessary because I’m just drunk on all the literary references and stellar puns. As a bonus, this book’s list of classic titles fleshed out my TBR list. (How could I have forgotten I haven’t read The Unbearable Lightness of Being?) One day, I am going to meet author Tim Federle and make him several Pitchers of Dorian Grey Gooses. (Geese? Pitchers of Dorian Grey Geese? I need to work this out before Tim gets here….or just avoid the whole question and make him a batch of Woman In White Russians.)
Postcards From The Edge (Carrie Fisher) The main character in Carrie Fisher’s debut novel is an equal-opportunity substance abuser, so we’re not limited to alcohol here. This semi-autobiographical story of a working actress with a famous mother coping with her day-to-day life LA after rehab pulls no punches as it chronicles the reality of living the glamorous life in the world’s biggest fishbowl. It’s hilarious, heartbreaking, and above all brutally honest. Carrie Fisher is unique in her ability to take cringeworthy, painful situations and craft side-splitting comedy while never succumbing to self-pity. It gives her work an emotional integrity that resonates long after you’ve stopped laughing.
“The Swimmer” (John Cheever) For every cheerful depiction of the convivial camaraderie of drinking, there is someone living the toxic nightmare of addiction. John Cheever captures the dark, chaotic recklessness of chronic alcoholism in his startling short story, “The Swimmer”. Surreal and hypnotic, the story depicts the slow collapse of a life dragged under by habitual benders and the hazy confusion brought on by too many booze-induced blackouts. Cheever knew a thing or two about drinking to excess. His lifelong struggle with alcoholism was a family affair, with his father and his brother both sufferers, and Cheever almost died from an alcohol-induced embolism before he was able to quit drinking for good. In “The Swimmer”, Cheever depicts the pain and vulnerability at the core of self-destructive behavior while avoiding showing any sympathy for the damage that it does. It’s poignant, enlightening, and a little scary.
Honorable Mention: The Secret History (Donna Tartt) Get drunk with your friends! Pretend you’re a deer! Maybe kill some people! HAHAHHAHAHAHA parties are fun!
For more silly words about The Secret History, click here. And, for the record, I will happily make Pitchers Of Dorian Grey Gooses/Geese for Donna Tartt any time she wants.