The Trip to Echo Spring (Book Acquired, 10.20.2014)


Olivia Laing’s The Trip to Echo Spring got a lot of a buzz when it came out in hardback last year. It’s out in trade paperback now from Picador. Their blurb:

In The Trip to Echo Spring, Olivia Laing examines the link between creativity and alcohol through the work and lives of six extraordinary men: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, John Berryman, John Cheever, and Raymond Carver.

All six of these writers were alcoholics, and the subject of drinking surfaces in some of their finest work, from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof to A Moveable Feast. Often, they did their drinking together: Hemingway and Fitzgerald ricocheting through the cafés of Paris in the 1920s; Carver and Cheever speeding to the liquor store in Iowa in the icy winter of 1973.

Olivia Laing grew up in an alcoholic family herself. One spring, wanting to make sense of this ferocious, entangling disease, she took a journey across America that plunged her into the heart of these overlapping lives. As she travels from Cheever’s New York to Williams’s New Orleans, and from Hemingway’s Key West to Carver’s Port Angeles, she pieces together a topographical map of alcoholism, from the horrors of addiction to the miraculous possibilities of recovery.

Captivating and original, The Trip to Echo Spring strips away the myth of the alcoholic writer to reveal the terrible price creativity can exert.

You can read an excerpt here.

Not crazy about the claustrophobic cover.

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The Drunkard’s Progress



The Drinker — Jusepe de Ribera

The Day After — Edvard Munch

Hooped Pots, Sneak-cup, and Other Drinking Customs in Shakespeare

Drinking Customs.

Shakespeare has given several allusions to the old customs associated with drinking, which have always varied in different countries. At the present day many of the drinking customs still observed are very curious, especially those kept up at the universities and inns-of-court. Alms-drink was a phrase in use, says Warburton, among good fellows, to signify that liquor of another’s share which his companion drank to ease him. So, in “Antony and Cleopatra” (ii. 7) one of the servants says of Lepidus: “They have made him drink alms-drink.”

By-drinkings.This was a phrase for drinkings between meals, and is used by the Hostess in “1 Henry IV.” (iii. 3), who says to Falstaff: “You owe money here besides, Sir John, for your diet, and by-drinkings.”

Hooped Pots.In olden times drinking-pots were made with hoops, so that, when two or more drank from the same tankard, no one should drink more than his share. There were generally three hoops to the pots: hence, in “2 Henry VI.” (iv. 2), Cade says: “The three-hooped pot shall have ten hoops.” In Nash’s “Pierce Pennilesse” we read: “I believe hoopes on quart pots were invented that every man should take his hoope, and no more.” The phrases “to do a man right” and “to do him reason” were, in years gone by, the common expressions in pledging healths; he who drank a bumper expected that a bumper should be drunk to his toast. To this practice alludes the scrap of a song which Silence sings in “2 Henry IV.” (v. 3): “Do me right, And dub me knight: Samingo.” He who drank, too, a bumper on his knee to the health of his mistress was dubbed a knight for the evening. The word Samingo is either a corruption of, or an intended blunder for, San Domingo, but why this saint should be the patron of topers is uncertain.

Rouse.According to Gifford, [972] a rouse was a large glass in which a health was given, the drinking of which, by the rest of the company, formed a carouse. Hamlet (i. 4) says: “The king doth wake to-night, and takes his rouse.” The word occurs again in the following act (1), where Polonius uses the phrase “o’ertook in’s rouse;” and in the sense of a bumper, or glass of liquor, in “Othello” (ii. 3), “they have given me a rouse already.”

Sheer Ale. This term, which is used in the “Taming of the Shrew” (Induction, sc. 2), by Sly—“Ask Marian Hacket, the fat ale-wife of Wincot, if she know me not: if she say I am not fourteen pence on the score for sheer ale”—according to some expositors, means “ale alone, nothing but ale,” rather than “unmixed ale.”

Sneak-cup. This phrase, which is used by Falstaff in “1 Henry IV.” (iii. 3)—“the prince is a Jack, a sneak-cup”—was used to denote one who balked his glass.

From Thomas Firminger Thiselton-Dyer’s indispensable volume Folk-lore of Shakespeare.

Cormac McCarthy’s Bloody Mary and Other Author Cocktails

At HTML, chief mixologist Jimmy Chen has concocted a satirical round of writer cocktails. Here’s “Cormac McCarthy’s Bloody Mary” (which calls for something called a “salary stick” — not sure what that is, but we suggest a celery stalk if you can’t find one)–

This is fun-mean–

And this is just mean-mean–


“What Lies Beyond Violent Drunkeness” — Guy Debord on Drinking Booze


In the following short chapter from his 1989 memoir Panegryic, Volume 1, Situationist mastermind Guy Debord writes a love letter to alcohol. He explains why he loves to drink, what he loves to drink, and where he loves to drink, and he does so with a scholar’s flair for quotation and an anarchic humor. Towards the end, he attacks the current state of mass-produced wines, liquors, and beers, complaining that regional flavors and varieties are being destroyed. Great stuff!

Wines, spirits and beers: the moments when some of them became essential and the moments when they returned have traced out the main course and meanders of days, weeks and years. Two or three other passions, which I will talk about, have almost continually taken up a lot of space in this life. But drinking has been the most constant and the most present. Among the small number of things that I have liked and known how to do well, what I have assuredly known how to do best is drink. Even though I have read a lot, I have drunk even more. I have written much less than most people who write; but I have drunk much more than most people who drink. I can count myself among those of whom Baltasar Gracián, thinking about an elite distinguishable only among the Germans — but here very unfair, to the detriment of the French, as I think I have shown — could say: “There are those who have got drunk only once, but it has lasted them a lifetime.” [...]

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Dad’s Little Helper: Malt Liquor for Grownups

So my wife gave me Rogue’s Dad’s Little Helper Malt Liquor for Father’s Day. The back of the bottle tells the history of Father’s Day, which is fortunate, because I love reading copy with my food and drink. Here is the history:

After the death of his wife, Henry Jackson Smart was left to raise 6 young children alone. His courage, love, selflessness and dedication inspired his daughter, Sonora Smart Dodd, to organize the first Fathers Day on June 19th, 1910. In 1924 President Calvin Coolidge proclaimed the third Sunday in June as Fathers Day. President Nixon, in 1972, established it as a permanent day of national observance.

Nixon! What a softy. Anyway. I’m going to drink this now and write about the experience in real time.

Malt liquor is traditionally served in its selfsame bottle or can, with the special accoutrement of a brown paper bag. However, out of respect for Rogue Brews–they make great beers–I’ll pour it out into a nice glass. Here goes.

7:56pm: Open the bottle. The nose is reminiscent of, uh, like a quart of Mickey’s (the “gentleman’s malt”). Not a good sign.

7:57pm: Pour. The color is gold, of course, a little darker and more opaque than a standard American lager.

7:58pm: Taste. First impression: This isn’t Olde English, but it’s hardly Rogue’s Juniper Pale Ale.

7:59pm: Oh shit! The Simpsons is going to come on (yeah, I still like The Simpsons).

8:00pm: I missed the couch gag. Hang on, a trailer for Hellboy 2. This looks pretty good. But back to the malt.

8:03pm: The beer has a good taste in the mouth, but it has that undeniable corn-burn aftertaste, which is kinda unpleasant, and kinda makes you want to keep drinking the beer. Homer kills his father–but it’s just a “wonderful dream.” Dark.

8:08pm: I haven’t had malt liquor in a long time, actually, probably like seven years. When I was a college student I used to scrape together seventy cents and go to the gas station next door and get myself a quart of Hurricane (to more cosmopolitan readers: in Florida we don’t have beverages in the forty ounce variety, popularly called “forties” –we have quarts. Because that extra eight ounces will, like, really tear you up). The trick with Hurricane–or really any quart, especially malt liquor, is to drink it really, really fast, before it gets warm. When it gets warm, it’s really, really bad. Also, the last portion is no good to drink, but may be respectfully tipped out in memory to one’s fallen comrades (the “homies,” if you will). Lisa said “southern-fried succubus.” Excellent.

8:17pm: A little internet research reveals that Anheuser-Busch still makes Hurricane. Also, Hurricane received a 2.125 rating (5 is the best) at BeerPal. What kind of a loser takes the time to review malt liquor online? Dad’s Little Helper got a 3.0. Here’s a quick control: My go-to beer of choice, Sierra Nevada IPA earned a 3.355, and Budweiser, the self-proclaimed “King of Beers” earned a 1.866.

8:26pm: The Dixie Chicks, Colonel Homer…and Major Marge! Seriously, the show is way past due for being taken out back and gently shot between the eyes. Seriously.

8:30pm: King of the Hill. This show is still good. And “What Would Hank Hill Do?” is a personal motto of mine.

8:35pm: This malt liquor is only 22 ounces, not 34, but it’s never taken me this long to drink one before. I’m kinda old, I guess, or I just don’t drink that much anymore.

8:36pm: My wife appears from the baby’s room. She has put the baby to sleep (that’s not a metaphor. We’re excellent parents). She asks about the malt liquor. “It’s a malt liquor,” I say. “It’s pretty good.” She asks me why I’m smiling. I think the brew is working some magic on me.

8:40pm: Micturition imminent.

8:43pm: God, I hate Peggy Hill.

8:45pm: My wife informs me that this Rogue beverage costs the same as other Rogue beverages (like five or six dollars). So, there. There’s some info in the review.

8:46pm: I haven’t talked about the label. Who is this guy? He’s on a couple of the Rogue bottles, but it strikes me now that he looks like Tom Selleck. Or, really like Magnum (P.I.). Magnum in three ties.

8:50pm: It occurs to me now that my best friend gave me a subscription to a microbrew of the month club, where I’ll receive several microbrewed beers in the mail every other month. So, I could do reviews like these, you know bimonthly (I suppose there’s nothing to stop me from doing them all the time–still, there needs to be an occasion. I’m kinda rambling now).

8:56pm: Okay–so, as it warms, Dad’s Little Helper conforms to standard malt liquor rules–but with greater resistance. There’s a possibility of this tasting like ass pretty soon, though, I fear. I need to pony up and get down to brass tacks.

9:02pm: Final verdict: This beer will give you a buzz, but so will Hurricane, paint thinner, and standing up too fast. A lovely Father’s Day gift–who wouldn’t want malt liquor?–but not on par with Rogue’s other brews.