Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Booknote: The Wet and the Dry

Lawrence Osborne, The Wet and the Dry:  a Drinker's Journey. New York: Crown, 2013. ISBN: 978-0-7704-3688-9.

Genre: Nonfiction
Subgenre: Travel, memoir, "foodie" (it could appeal to readers of food and travel narratives)
Format: Print. Hardback.
Source: My local public library.

I started reading this book with interest, but I ended up skimming parts of it. Once I start skimming, that is usually the sign I have lost interest in the book. Part of the reason I lost interest here is the author pretty much does not seem to get to the point. The book has a lot of jumping around. Some of the alcohol trivia I do find interesting, but it is interspersed between anecdotes of the author in bars, often in Islamic nations where Westerners can drink (quite the hypocritical irony if you think about it); Muslims in those nations see it as a cost of doing business with the West. Furthermore, there is a lot of drinking alone going on, which to be honest, after a while gets old and a little pathetic.

As I stated, there are some interesting parts. For instance, he discusses the Dyonisius cult and how the later Byzantine Empire wiped it out. This is basically another example of Christians ruining the fun for everyone else. But here comes the irony, Justinian II did much of the wiping out because he wanted to be like neighboring Muslim kingdoms. Add to this the irony that Muslims were the ones that gave us distillation. Also interesting is trivia on things like how much people drink around the world.

In the end, I wanted to like this book, but the interesting tidbits are not enough to keep my interest. After a while, one bar in some exotic locale just sort of blends with another and another without much distinction. The book and topic (looking at how people drink in areas where it is permitted and areas where it is restricted) had potential, but it just became a boring read after a while.

Overall, this is a book you can skip. It is one I did not like, so I am rating it 1 out of 5 stars.

For reference, books I have read that may have similar appeal (and may make a better read than this one):

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Additional reading thoughts:

According to the author,

"Beer and wine are for friends, but distillations are for the drinker who is alone" (13). 

I don't totally concur with that, but then again I do not drink alone very often unlike the author who seems to do it on a regular basis. I like sharing the spirits whenever possible.

Now this may be a small virtue of drinking, but again, I say don't overdo it:

"The most humbling thing about drinking is the instantaneous erosion of recent memory. As the mind reassembles itself after a poisoning, it is full of questions, but it finds no answers" (44).

At times the author glamorizes hangovers a bit much. I have seen enough ugly hangovers in friends, and even a family member or two, to know it is not always this moment of zen-like reflection. I suppose a little buzz can be OK. However, once you get to full blown hangover, I am not so sure. In fact, one of the things that made me think a bit less of graduate school was how many faculty and grad students made it a badge of honor to be wasted and still be able to discuss literary theory (somewhat) coherently. Then again, some of the great writers were alcoholics, to varying degrees of being functional alcoholics. On the hangover, the author writes,

"A hangover is, moreover, a complex thing. It is slow, meditative; it inclines us into introspection and clarity. The aftereffect of a mild envenoming is cleansing mentally. It enables one to seize one's mind anew, to build it up again and regain some kind of eccentric courage" (45).

By the way, he also employs the imagery of poison and venom quite a bit when talking about drinking and alcohol. I know it is a popular and common image, but I prefer to think of my alcohol consumption as a nice enhancer and relaxant. Arsenic and cyanide are poisons. Alcoholic beverages are just a special treat to relax and maybe share with friends. There is a difference. Maybe we need to work on changing that toxin imagery in the culture.

Note: This book qualifies for the following 2015 Reading Challenges I am doing:

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