A Look at Intoxicating Literature

Drinking is an important “device” in many literary works. It can feel like real life, it can be fun, it can be dramatic, it can be disastrous. And one reason why the quaffing of adult beverages is often conveyed so believably in fiction is that some authors have had plenty of personal experience with it. ๐Ÿ™‚

Few novels are as drenched in alcoholism as Emile Zola’s The Drinking Den, in which booze sends a hardworking former teetotaler (Gervaise Macquart) into a horrible downward spiral. Liquor also plays a big role in the grim descent of Dick Diver in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender Is the Night.

Then there’s Anne Bronte’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, in which Helen escapes an awful marriage to the hard-drinking Arthur Huntington — taking their young son with her. (The last straw for Helen was Arthur encouraging the boy to imbibe.) Leaving one’s husband was quite a proto-feminist act for a novel published in 1848, when wives were basically expected to accept whatever abuse their “worser half” dished out.

Another alcoholic is Crime and Punishment’s Semyon, who’s a pathetically interesting character in his own right but more importantly the father of Sonya — the woman who becomes so important to protagonist Raskolnikov in Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s novel.

Plus Huck Finn’s father, whose drunkenness and destitution shape his son and are transcended by his son in Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Often, drinking can be part of a memorable single scene in a novel. The wild banquet in Honore de Balzac’s The Magic Skin is vividly described, and is representative of Raphael de Valentin’s dissolution. An intense tavern scene in George Eliot’s Silas Marner features the loner title character in a state of agitation after being robbed. Anne and Diana getting soused with currant wine the girls thought was raspberry cordial is pretty darn funny in L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables.

Then there are novels in which characters are employed serving drinks. In Alistair MacLean’s Where Eagles Dare, village barmaid Heidi is actually an undercover agent for the Allied forces in World War II Germany. Julia Glass’ elegiac Three Junes has Maureen working as a barkeep when she meets Paul — after which the Scottish couple have a less-than-idyllic marriage. One of their sons moves to America, where Fenno mostly resists the gay bars of 1980s Manhattan as the AIDS scourge hits.

And the star of Grail Nights is a New Orleans bartender named Sheila whose place of business is a perfect locale for author Amanda Moores to spin one interrelated tale after another as the protagonist interacts with different people — creating a “short-story cycle as novel” a la Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge and Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio. (Ms. Moores is the wife of jhNY — who, as you know, regular posts great comments here. He tells me that 100 copies of Grail Nights have been printed, signed by Ms. Moores, and numbered — and that about a dozen of those copies are being offered free to readers of this blog. If you’re interested, email me at dastor@earthlink.net and include your mailing address. I’ll give your address to jhNY, and he’ll send you the book. No postage costs, either. I read Grail Nights a couple of weeks ago, and found it enthralling and beautifully written. Plus jhNY provided the artwork for the front and back covers — with the design of the book handled by Roger Lathbury.)

Speaking of short stories, intoxication is a major factor in the macabre Edgar Allan Poe classic “The Cask of Amontillado.”

And there are countless other fictional protagonists who turn to drink when beaten down by tragedy, poverty, bigotry, disappointment, and life in general. But there are also many characters who enjoy beer, wine, or spirits in moderation — alone or in a social setting.

What are some memorable literary works you’ve read featuring alcoholics, drinking themes, and/or drinking moments?

(The box for submitting comments is below already-posted comments, but your new comment will appear at the top of the comments area โ€” unless youโ€™re replying to someone else.)

I won’t be posting a column on Dec. 27 because of a trip, but will occasionally check the blog that week to respond to comments. Back with another column on Jan. 3!

I’m writing a literature-related book, but still selling Comic (and Column) Confessional — my often-funny memoir that recalls 25 years of covering and meeting cartoonists such as Charles Schulz (“Peanuts”) and Bill Watterson (“Calvin and Hobbes”), columnists such as Ann Landers and “Dear Abby,” and other notables such as Hillary Clinton, Coretta Scott King, Walter Cronkite, and various authors. The book also talks about the malpractice death of my first daughter, my remarriage, and life in Montclair, N.J. — where I write the award-winning weekly “Montclairvoyant” humor column for The Montclair Times. You can email me at dastor@earthlink.net to buy a discounted, inscribed copy of the book, which contains a preface by “Hints” columnist Heloise and back-cover blurbs by people such as “The Far Side” cartoonist Gary Larson.

166 thoughts on “A Look at Intoxicating Literature

  1. First; Happy New Year Dave and everyone, may the new year bring you all good things.

    Secondly; Congratulations to jhNY and his wife, so much talent on this blog.

    This was a hard one but when I think of a memorable drunk I think F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby.” Sometimes it seems drinking was an actual character more than a plot device. Prohibition, Affluence,Turmoil and Intoxication was the perfect cocktail, pun intended ๐Ÿ˜€ , that led to tragedy. I think this novel captures the adolescent recklessness of the roaring 20’s.

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    • A very Happy New Year to you, too, New Jack City! Sorry I didn’t reply sooner; for some reason I don’t get email notifications of your comments. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ And I was on the road most of yesterday and today, driving back home from Ohio.

      I agree — a LOT of talent in the comments section of this blog, including you.

      Your “The Great Gatsby” mention was…well…great. ๐Ÿ™‚ Excellent, eloquent paragraph about that novel. Drinking certainly permeated F. Scott Fitzgerald’s life and writing.

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  2. One writer I have to thank (?) for some knowledge of alcoholic drinks is John Cheever. When I read his fantastic collection ‘The Stories of John Cheever’ (the one with the big red cover), in story after story I would read of a character ordering either an Old Fashioned or a Manhattan. It was the first time I’d encountered those particular drinks. I think I asked around and actually ordered a Manhattan at a bar once or twice. Still don’t recall all the ingredients but I’m pretty sure that bourbon or whiskey of some kind is one of the essential ones. When watching ‘Mad Men’ I’ve observed Don Draper and several of his colleagues ordering one of those at least once in almost every episode. At the beginning of the series, Don lives in Ossining, New York (where Cheever lived) and rides the train to work every day. Series creator Mathew Weiner said that was intentional as he’s a huge Cheever fan.

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    • Terrific angle on this topic, bobess48! Literature (and TV shows) as drinking education… ๐Ÿ™‚ Thank you for the great comment.

      I read John Cheever’s “The Swimmer” a few months ago on your recommendation, and, if I’m remembering right, there was a good bit of drinking in that outstanding short story.

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  3. To all who requested a copy of Amanda Moores’ “Grail Nights”:

    They were mailed Tuesday (12/29) afternoon, at media rate, and should arrive by the end of next week.

    Enjoy!

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  4. Literature can be very intoxicating in itself. I know that many authors were hard drinkers, probably none more so than John Cheever, Poe, and jack London: the latter two whom I believe died as the resulting of their drinking habits.

    The first novel that comes to mind is of course “A Great Gatsby” where Gatsby made his fortune as a bootlegger and liquor fueledd the parties that brought guests to Gatsby’s house, and with sentences like “There was blue music from my neighbor’s house through the summer nights. In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars.”

    One of my favorite short stories is Cathedral by Raymond Carver about a narrator who uses alcohol, to a large extent, to shut himself off from the rest of the world, and only begins to “see” when a blind friend of his wife arrives for a visit and the narrator and the blind man end up drawing a cathedral together late at night from a TV show the blind man is listening to. “It was definitely something.” The story, and that last sentence quote.

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  5. Is anybody else going through new blog withdrawal this week?

    While there’s not much drinking in Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina”, it’s just about driving me to drink. Though it’s easier to read than “War and Peace” I’m finding it unnecessarily long, and kind of tedious. I was hoping to have it finished in 2015, but it’s seeming like it’s going to be hanging around in the new year..

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    • Thank you, Susan! I miss posting a new column and discussing a new topic tonight, but I guess a visit to family is taking priority this week. ๐Ÿ™‚

      “While thereโ€™s not much drinking in Tolstoy’s ‘Anna Karenina,’ itโ€™s just about driving me to drink” — nicely/humorously put, as your impressive reading of all-time classics continues. I read that novel so long ago that I barely remember whether I loved it or liked it.

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      • There’s no doubt that visiting family is more important than keeping me entertained ๐Ÿ™‚ I hope you enjoy your time away, and that you and your family had a wonderful Christmas ๐Ÿ™‚

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        • Nope — both important. ๐Ÿ™‚

          I’m currently in Michigan, returning to New Jersey this Sunday. My reading for the week is Donna Tartt’s “The Goldfinch.” Very early in it, but REALLY good so far.

          Hope you also had a wonderful Christmas, Susan, and that your New Year’s will be great as well!

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          • I’ve not read any Tartt before. I’m glad to hear that you’re enjoying it ๐Ÿ™‚

            Am I right in thinking that Michigan is somewhere up the top of the country? If so, you must be freezing! So hard to imagine, when I’m (again) trying to get over a bad sunburn. Living in the skin cancer capital of the world, I should know better. Maybe I’ll make that a 2016 resolution…

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            • Thanks for the reply, Susan!

              Donna Tartt is one of those authors who writes a lengthy, intricate novel every decade or so. “The Goldfinch” is 771 pages.

              Yes, Michigan is just below Canada. (Actually, some of the state is north of some of Canada. ๐Ÿ™‚ ) I’m in Ann Arbor — about 600 miles northwest of New Jersey, and about an hour west of Detroit. Some serious weather at the moment — just above freezing, rain, sleet, and wind. Puddle city!

              Very sorry about the sunburn. Warm weather is nice, but it can definitely have its drawbacks. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

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  6. jhNY, I didn’t want this comment to be buried among so many others on this site, but I tell many other booklovers, along with Dave, how important this blog is to many of us. I feel that we have a rather unique community of those who love not only literature, but other books as well. Thank you so much for sending out “Grail Nights” to us. I’m looking forward to getting a copy of it, and find your offer to send us a copy for free as such a wonderful thing to do. Thank you!

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    • The mailing goes out this week, now that the present-sending portion of the season is behind us.

      I am pleased to say we still have a few copies available to any reader on-site– so if any folks reading have considered asking for a copy, please do!

      And thanks for the thanks. I think the blog is very important too, because it brings us together, and wanted to show my appreciation.

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      • Thank you, jhNY, for the kind words about this blog and its wonderful community. And thanks again for the book offer! I’ll forward you info about another “Grail Nights” request — the eighth? — in a few minutes. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  7. Dave, while there is often a bar involved in literature, like the tavern in town where the people talk to fill in back story for “The Pioneers” by Cooper, I find the stories with the most drinking are usually older. A lot of the Robin Hood stories involve beer, mead, cider, and wine used with little or no consequence. Yet in “Beowulf” they mention characters that over indulge to the detriment of someone else. It is an interesting thing that, drinking in the correct setting, at a meal, is fine but outside of the meal it is not.

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    • Thank you, GL! Great older-literature perspective on this! Definitely a lot of merry imbibing in the Robin Hood stories — which I loved reading as a kid. (I haven’t read “Beowulf.”)

      If I’m remembering right, Natty Bumppo in James Fenimore Cooper’s novels (“The Pioneers,” etc.) wasn’t much of a drinker himself but of course some of the hard-bitten men around him downed alcohol at times.

      And, yes, having a drink with a meal feels very different than having a drink (or two or three or four) with no food. Or maybe a little food — beer nuts? ๐Ÿ™‚

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    • Another excellent example of drinking in lit! “A Death in the Family” is among the novels that have spent many months on my to-read list, which is longer than an alcoholic bender. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  8. Nobody mentioned Ironweed, so I fixed it. Drinking guy who drinks alot and for a few compelling reasons, one involving child-dropping.

    Then there’s Bukowski, fiction and its creator.

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    • jhNY, I couldn’t read Ironweed. I saw the movie with Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep and was so emotionally upset that I couldn’t bear to go there in the novel. The movie was absolutely tragic, but so compelling that I couldn’t turn away.

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      • The movie version of “Ironweed” WAS excellent and devastating, lulabelle. Major acting firepower, too, with Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson. (As you know, they also were together in “Heartburn” the year before.)

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      • And having read the book, I couldn’t bear the prospect of seeing the movie when it came out– though if I ran across it, I might be in a mood to endure it one of these days.

        I am vulnerable to the power of Richard Yates, who managed to make me feel terrible things when I read Revolutionary Road. I have another novel of his close at hand, but for over half a year I can’t bring myself to crack it. Also a biography, which is likewise uncracked, probably mostly because, as I understand his life, his fiction was made directly out of it. My wife read his Easter Parade, and was similarly devastated.

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  9. In Thomas Hardyโ€™s โ€œThe Mayor of Casterbridgeโ€, one of the main characters gets so drunk at a public fair that he winds up selling his wife to another bar patron. He swears off alcohol for 20 years, but when that time is up, he resumes his drinking. I think this is one of Hardyโ€™s best works.

    In Henry Millerโ€™s โ€œTropic of Cancerโ€, the semi-autobiographical protagonist and his friends use alcohol to fuel their disaffected adventures as ex-patriots in France between the wars.

    In Washington Irvingโ€™s โ€œRip Van Winkleโ€, our protagonist goes on such a bender that it take him 20 years to sleep it off!

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    • Three fabulous (and, ironically, sobering) examples of drunkenness in literature! Thanks, drb!

      As Thomas Hardy’s novel proves, people can do some pretty dumb things when soused — also including committing murder or suicide. Heck, Paul Auster’s novel “The Music of Chance” combines those two things in one act.

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      • Hey Dave, I love the novel of ‘The Music of Chance’ as well as the film adaptation of it but I’m drawing a blank on the example you cited of murder/suicide in the novel. I also don’t recall heavy alcohol consumption. Perhaps I should just re-read the novel.

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        • Spoiler alert to anyone else reading this comment. ๐Ÿ™‚

          At the end of the novel, Brian, Jim Nashe takes the wheel of a car that includes some guys he was drinking with and deliberately plows into an oncoming vehicle.

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            • Interesting. I’ve never seen the movie. The novel’s ending was a little ambiguous, but my impression was that the crash was fatal. I could be wrong! And of course movies sometimes have more upbeat endings than the novels they’re based on (as in “The Natural”).

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  10. Here are two books germane to topic, as yet unmentioned bvy others:

    Dashiell Hammett’s “The Thin Man”: In addition to its effortlessly snappy, sexy dialogue, drinking, heedless and limitless drinking, takes up a lot of space in this book. But the ill effects that one might expect to follow, mostly don’t. So more drinking. Cocktails out of elegant shakers mostly, in lounges, bars, dinner parties, afternoons, evenings, wee small hours. Also a thrilling bit of mysteriousness and intrigue. But most of all drinking, as improved by the charming application of fiction’s power to smooth over all.

    Nick Flynn’s “Another Bullshit Night in Suck City” is not quite fiction– but not quite not, either, I suspect. It’s the tale of the author’s relationship with his alcoholic, deluded father, who lives in homeless shelters late in his life– including the one his son works in.

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    • You brought up a good point, jhNY. In some novels (and movies, etc.), heavy drinkers seem little worse for wear. Sort of like how some protagonists don’t get that hurt by violence that would probably kill or at least severely injure them in real life. Ah, fiction…

      Thanks for mentioning and ably describing those two books — with the second one of course having a title that’s hard to beat!

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      • Yes, Dave, I almost mentioned the series of Nick and Nora Charles novels(“The Thin Man”) in my previous comment, as they were the embodiment of a very cool couple who seemed to drink quite heavily. I have DVDs set in Great Britain mostly back in the 30’s and they are full of references to martinis, sidecars, and other cocktails.

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          • Kat Lib, excessive drinking (and smoking) seemed almost ubiquitous in some novels (and movies) of a certain time. With little or no showing of health issues associated with that behavior.

            I guess some of those fictional characters were members of Alcoholics Salubrious. ๐Ÿ™‚

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              • You reminded me of a story from my early adult life when the man I’ve been with for about 45 years took me out to dinner for the first time to a very fancy restaurant in Atlanta. I had learned from my father about certain wines, one of which was CHATEAU D’YQUEM, a very pricey wine that was even mentioned in one of the Lord Peter Wimsey novels. I guess he wanted to impress me, so he ordered this for our dinner, which I think even back then was $100 a bottle. I had to admire the fact the sommelier gave me the cork to sniff and to taste the first glass of wine, usually handled by the man in the party. We often laugh about that night, especially since we now only order the “house” wine if out or the box wine if home.

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                • Wow, Kat Lib — that wine does sound quite fancy. I guess price can be no object on early dates. ๐Ÿ™‚ And nice that the sommelier wasn’t sexist! Also, great that that wine was mentioned in one of Dorothy L. Sayers’ novels! I imagine drink (or food) in literature sometimes inspires readers to try that particular item.

                  Despite this week’s topic, I’m not a drinker myself. Just never liked the taste of wine, beer, or anything else alcoholic.

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            • I once ran across a book of photos taken at Hemingway’s place in Cuba in the late 40’s or early 50’s. One was of Gary Cooper and Papa. Of course they’d been in the sun, but they each looked to have been sandblasted by over-indulgence in drink. Also tobacco.

              Being able to hold prodigious amounts of liquor was a big plus in the old daze of Hollywood, and most of the best of them were able imbibers, drinking into the small hours, then up with the birds on the set– showing no ill effects.

              Heard indirectly from a biographer of a famous 40’s era leading man, that said star drank, over 85, 6 double vodka martinis during a long lunch, and seemed no worse for wear.

              Something about art imitating life might go well here.

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              • Fascinating stuff, jhNY! Of course, as you know, for every author, actor, etc., who lived a long life despite drinking and smoking heavily (the Winston Churchill effect), so many others died young or relatively young because of overindulgence (the F. Scott Fitzgerald effect). And I imagine the latter group included some people who “seemed” to hold their liquor well.

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                • Don’t think it’s read often today, but The Disenchanted by Budd Schulberg is a fictional recasting of an actual disaster involving the author as a very young man starting out in the film biz, and F. Scott Fitzgerald, industry veteran. They were hired to write a script revolving around a winter festival held at Dartmouth U., and in the book at least, traveled together by train from LA to the site. On the way, the young author insists that the older join him in a celebratory toast, which leads to another, which leads to a binge and campus disgrace. Disquieting, of course, but I figure it’s one of the few sympathetic portraits, even though fictional, of Fitzgerald in decline, written by someone who got too close for comfort, if only for a little while.

                  Happy New Year!

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                  • Happy New Year to you, too, jhNY!

                    “The Disenchanted” sounds like a very interesting fictional/factual book. A little surprising that it’s not better known today (I’m among the people who have never heard of it) given the continued fascination with F. Scott Fitzgerald. Or maybe the continued fascination is more with “The Great Gatsby” than with “The Great Gatsby” author…

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  11. Two that have already been mentioned: Uncle John in โ€œGrapes of Wrathโ€. Drinking was obviously not going to be easy for him with their limited funds, but I was so happy for him when he did finally get sloshed. And Marmeladov was good fun at the beginning of โ€œCrime and Punishmentโ€. Using his drunken logic to somehow explain that he drank all his familyโ€™s money because he was a good guy. I dunno, it almost seemed to make sense to me. Though I may have had a wine or twoโ€ฆ

    And Iโ€™m also a fan of how Scarlett learned to drink in โ€œGone with the Windโ€. Much like the Bronte character you mentioned, drinking scotch was just not the done thing by women during and after the civil war. Or maybe they all did it, and just kept it to themselves?

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    • Yes, some memorable drinking in “The Grapes of Wrath” and “Crime and Punishment” classics you recently read, Susan! And Semyon Marmeladov did indeed make some weird attempts at logic to explain/excuse his irresponsible behavior.

      As you might be alluding to with Scarlett in “Gone With the Wind,” drinking could partly be seen as an attempt by some female fictional characters to appear as tough and powerful and “in charge” as men. But I haven’t read Margaret Mitchell’s novel in so long I’ve forgotten all the details relating to Scarlett and drinking!

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  12. Between 1927 and 1932-33, Zora Neale Hurston traveled back and forth from NYC to her hometown of Eatonville, FL. She also made side trips to parts of Louisiana. The purpose of those trips was to gather tall tales and folklore from the locals, and learn more about the cultural aspects of voodoo. Those stories would eventually became the basis of Mules and Men, which was a collection of folklore published in 1935.

    The social scene of Eatonville was important for Hurston’s research. As with most small town folk, they didn’t trust outsiders, and Hurston had the label as an outsider because she lived in NYC. Didn’t matter that she had roots in Eatonville; she still had to earn their trust if she expected to gather any stories.

    At the heart of Eatonville social gatherings was a type of moonshine with the initials CD (the true name of this moonshine might be offensive, so I’ll just name it by its initials). CD was a very…interesting beverage. Eatonville people described it as “what you need to drink to make the drunk come down.” LOL. I think it was made out of beef bones, corn meal hash, grapefruit juice, and a few other ingredients. And as every Southerner knows, you can only drink moonshine out of mason jars. Hurston had to follow suit in order to get in good with the Eatonville crowd, and it worked. There are some incredible and hilarious folk tales in Mules and Men.

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    • VERY nicely told, Ana! Thanks! There was obviously a lot more to Zora Neale Hurston’s writing and career than “Their Eyes Were Watching God” — as great as that novel is — and “Mules and Men” is definitely one of many examples.

      I’m afraid I couldn’t try that “CD” beverage because of the beef bones (I’m vegetarian). But, besides those beef bones, the concoction sounds…well…um…concoction-like… ๐Ÿ™‚

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      • The Casey Jones Village in Jackson, TN has an old barrel of moonshine on display in the museum. Tennessee moonshiners were known for funneling their products to the North during Prohibition. Their illegal activity was secret…but everyone knew about it. Lots of old distilleries in the western and eastern parts of the state. And from what I’ve heard over the years from locals, ‘shine was…wow. LOL.

        Another drink that Hurston enjoyed in Mules and Men was plain Coca-Cola with salt. No alcohol was in it. Supposedly, this beverage provided hang-over relief from CD. I know that the founder of Coca-Cola was a pharmacist. Maybe this antidote for CD was one of his homemade cures.

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        • Moonshine as a museum artifact — love it! I also love your line “their illegal activity was secretโ€ฆbut everyone knew about it.” ๐Ÿ™‚ Nice turn of phrase, Ana!

          And interesting about Coca-Cola. If I’m remembering correctly, Coke actually had some cocaine in it during its early days (19th century).

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        • Almost a half-century ago, because I knew a man who knew the man who made it (in the so-called “kingdom of Madison”, Madison County, NC, where every few years the moonshiners and their customers would ally themselves with the preachers and their memberships so that , working together, legal liquor would be voted down), I did have occasion to drink moonshine about 40+ years ago, though not in a Mason jar. The clear liquid was poured into a punch bowl, then dried peaches were added. It was left to stand overnight, then drained through a fine cloth, and in the morning, the moonshine had acquired a lovely amber color. Tasted a bit like brandy, but kicked a bit more. A good bit more.

          If I remember right, “the kingdom of Madison” was home to Devil Anse Hatfield, of feudin’ fame.

          In a related note, Thunder Road, Robert Mitchum’s film about runnin’ ‘shine, was the only film to play in a small mountain town in the Appalachians– for years. The locals could not get enough of the movie– and only that movie. I suspect much sympathy for the activities depicted among the audience.

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    • For a song embodying the spirit of the times, for bodies imbibing spirits at the time, this, I think, is about perfect: Memphis Minnie’s “Drunken Barrelhouse Blues” (1934).

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        • One good turn deserves an even earlier drinking song, this one by way of Uncle Dave Macon, early Opry star. But it too is originally a black song, probably from the last quarter of the 19th century. White, mule-driving Macon preserved, in his vast repertoire, a great many black ditties from the past. Note educated feet.

          Won’t get drunk no more
          Won’t get drunk no more
          Won’t get drunk no more
          Won’t get drunk no more

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            • Yes, in what they call “clawhammer style”, the accompaniment preferred by banjoists pre-Scruggs. The banjo, by the 1920’s, was like the fiddle, largely eschewed by black folk musicians, most of all because of its association with the minstrel show. But it’s African-American in origin, the banjo, and in the 19th century was the instrument of choice for self-accompanied black singers.

              Its main feature is the tambourine-like body, which had skin stretched over its hoop-frame, at first by tacking it to the rim. One of the few black banjoists to record, Gus Cannon, revealed that he always kept newspaper handy, so that, on damp days, he could burn a little under the banjo, being careful not to light anything else on fire, and by that method tighten the skin. Later models featured a mechanical means for tightening.

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              • Fascinating information. Thank you, jhNY! One musician often associated with the banjo in more recent decades is the late Pete Seeger, but that instrument’s history, as you note, goes back much further. Many aspects of music, and various musical genres, obviously have African-American roots.

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                • Pete’s banjo neck was four frets longer than normal– he designed it himself, to make self-accompaniment easier in favored keys.

                  If you want to get a taste for early banjo no longer often performed, seek out Fred Van Eps, practitioner of plectrum or orchestral style banjo– recorded in the 19-teens and twenties.

                  If you want to hear the greatest banjo player of all time– check out Bela Fleck, an NYC boy who long ago was inspired to play by the theme-song from The Beverly Hillbillies.

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      • It just doesn’t get any better than Memphis Minnie when it comes to pickin’ the guitar. Most musical historians may disagree, but IMO she was the real Queen of Beale Street (no disrespect to the lady who currently holds that title, Ms. Ruby Wilson.)

        A piece of local history that a lot of Memphians don’t know: the nursing home where Memphis Minnie spent her final years after she suffered a stroke is still in operation today (it’s located in North Memphis). The name of the facility has of course been changed, but the original building is there.

        You’re alright, jhNY. Anyone who appreciates music the way you do is super cool and ok with me:)

        @Dave, shout-out to the people of NJ who showed me, my spouse, and siblings a good time during our stay in Newark. We had so much fun there and in NYC. But I avoided a Christmas party in the Ironbound district because that whole scene was too much for introverted people like me…

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            • Record warmth in the Northeast this fall and (very) early winter. Not sure what it’s like this week; I’m in Michigan now where it’s quite a bit colder. Sorry the weather wasn’t great when you returned home.

              Is that a halo or a Los Angeles Angels baseball cap? ๐Ÿ™‚

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              • I envy you, Dave. You’re within reasonable driving distance to lots of places in the upper Midwest and East Coast/New England that I enjoy visiting. We didn’t get a chance to visit Providence long for fear of missing our flight out of Newark. Love Rhode Island too; shame we couldn’t stay longer.

                My halo’s been crooked for years, so let’s just go with it being a hat.

                Enjoy your New Year’s Eve. I know I will, crooked halo and all, at the Space Needle tonight…

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                • Yes, as wonderful as the Northwest is, it’s a bit of a hike to a lot of places.

                  Sorry you didn’t get to spend more time in Providence.

                  I’m in Ann Arbor visiting my wife’s family, and just got back from one of the city’s independent bookstores. Among the three novels I bought was — Octavia Butler’s “Kindred”!!! ๐Ÿ™‚

                  Sounds like you have an excellent New Year’s Eve planned, Ana. Wishing you a great 2016!

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        • Memphis Minnie Douglas was an unparalleled guitarist, in my opinion– without having to add in that faintly damning phrase ‘for a woman’, although it is true, there is no other female guitarist in her era to whom she might be compared, except for Sister Rosetta Tharpe, who, in all fairness, came a bit later. She was Queen wherever she happened to be at the time, Chicago, Memphis, anyplace. And a fine songwriter too, who wrote, naturally, from a female perspective, and thus, made songs like Tricks Ain’t Walking, I’m Talking About You, I’m Gonna Bake My Biscuits, I Want That Thing– want to know how a streetwise Depression-era black woman saw things? Her catalog is a one-stop for that perspective, and a treasure to us all.

          I was, aware that she spent her last years in that Memphis nursing home, but unaware it still stands. Sadly, to my ear, she must have suffered a series of strokes before the big one. In the years after WW2, there is a rapid decline of facility apparent in her recordings, as compared to the many she made before the war.

          I own a rather odd bio, though just where I have it now I cannot say– a sort of bad parody of dissertation prose. But in it, there are photographs of Minnie’s set lists late in her career, written in her own hand– she kept playing anywhere she could till she literally could not.

          More people, but especially, more women should get to know her and her work. She’s an American original– tough, independent, capable, industrious and even brave. As you may have concluded already, she is also one of my all-time favorites.

          And Ana, had I known you were in NYC, I would have bought you a drink! It’s been nice to make your acquaintance here at Dave’s blog.

          Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Almost Iowa! I wasn’t familiar with Joyce Cary or “The Horseโ€™s Mouth,” so I appreciate the mention of both!

      Gully Jimson — what a name! Sounds sort of like an Erskine Caldwell character in “Tobacco Road.” ๐Ÿ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Congratulations to Mr. and Mrs. jhNY for their publishing success. Very cool!

    Dave, I love your mention of AoGG. That wine scene was just too funny. Who knew Anne and Diana would become a couple of party girls:)

    Seriously though, I think Diana’s mom overacted to the situation. It was an honest mistake; Anne certainly didn’t mean any harm. Keeping the girls apart was very cruel, especially devastating for Anne who suffered from abandonment issues anyway.

    But Diana’s mom had to eat crow and apologise to Anne after she saved the life of one of her smaller children during a medical emergency. She felt guilty for accusing Anne of getting Diana drunk and severing their friendship. Only then did the mom allow the girls to visit each other again. Moral of the story: watch how you treat people and how you talk to them because you never know when you’ll need their help.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Hi Dave, one of my favorite Scandinavian crime writers is Jo Nesbo. His main character through most of his books is a detective with the Oslo police by the name of Harry Hole (his last name is pronounced more like “Holy,” He is of course a deeply flawed character, most notably when he falls off the wagon, which seems to happen once in just about every book in the ten novel series, Nesbo’s last two novels have I think been standalones, which I haven’t read.

    There is a book I read a few years ago, which takes place for the most part in a fabulous restaurant in the Netherlands. It is entitled “The Dinner,” by Herman Koch. Two brothers and their wives show up in this restaurant to discuss what to do about their sons, who committed a rather heinous crime. The dinner goes from aperitif to digestif and everything in between. This is not a book for those who need to have a sympathetic character, but I found it very interesting.

    I got together today with one of my best friends from Jr. high school and we spent a little bit of time talking about books. Needless to say, she was another fan of the Jack Reacher series. I admit I’m almost afraid to read one of them now because they have been so hyped; but I’ll put reading one of them on my list for things to do in 2016.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kat Lib, thank you for the mentions and deft summaries of the Nesbo books and “The Dinner”! Great additions to this discussion.

      Another Jack Reacher fan! I’ll be very interested to hear what you think of a Reacher book, and I hope the series hasn’t been over-hyped for you.

      When I think about it, Reacher drinks very little or might even be a teetotaler — though he certainly downs a LOT of coffee. He likes and needs to stay soberly alert! Reacher HAS been known to enter bars in order to beat up some bad guys. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  15. There’s a memorable banquet scene in Fielding’s “Tom Jones” that has excess personified,food,copious drink and friviloty. I remember, in college,watching a very good film based on the novel staring a young, dashing Albert Finney. Henry Fielding was mentioned in a recent chapter I read earlier today in an engrossing,brilliant autobiography, 731 pages, written by Ron Chernow based on the life of the fascinating Alexander Hamilton, that Fielding was one of Hamilton’s favorite authors. When it comes to imbibing, Hemingway’s ” Moveable Feast” comes to mind, absinthe in particular, more a joie de vivre on an expat living,working in Paris, taking it all in through gastronomy in its many flavors and experiences.

    Liked by 2 people

    • It has been a LONG time since I read “Tom Jones,” but I think I remember that vivid scene, Michele. Henry Fielding was quite a writer — not surprised Alexander Hamilton liked him. (Sounds like an amazing biography you’re reading.) I read Fielding’s second most famous novel — “Joseph Andrews” — two or three years ago, and parts of it are SO funny.

      And, yes, Ernest Hemingway’s writings definitely didn’t ignore drinking scenes and situations. ๐Ÿ™‚ Terrific description of “A Moveable Feast,” which I need to read one day!

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  16. Of course, I must bring up the only novel that I never finished reading (yet)! I must admit that I skipped most of John Galt’s 100+ page speech in “Atlas Shrugged”, but I never ABANDONED a book until I began reading “Tortilla Flat” by John Steinbeck. After a while the drunken shenanigans of the paisanos began to wear on me. They got drunk, they stole a chicken, they got drunk, they flirted with somebody’s wife to get some food and wine, they got drunk, they accidentally burned down a house, they got drunk, etc. Eventually I will start again and persevere until I finish it. I believe you told me that it has a hilarious scene, Dave. I must not have gotten to that part before I gave up ๐Ÿ™‚

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  17. There are also drunken patriarchs in other Dostoevsky novels. In ‘The Idiot’, disgraced General Ivolgin causes financial hardship for his family by his habitual drinking and carousing. There is also the father, Fyodor, in ‘The Brothers Karamazov’, whose drinking and carousing, in the instance of his rivalry with his son for the affections of Grushenka, propels much of the action of that novel.

    Drinking in fiction and non-fiction is as prevalent as in life. Frank McCourt’s ‘Angela’s Ashes’ deals with a dirt poor Irish family which is even more dirt-poor due to the expensive drinking of Frank’s father. The rural Alabama equivalent of that family dynamic occurs in Rick Bragg’s memoir, ‘All Over But the Shoutin’. Although I haven’t read it yet, his third memoir, ‘The Prince of Frogtown’ delves into Rick’s father’s early life so I suspect much of that habitual drinking and the conditions that caused it occupy much of that book.

    I just realized that all of the examples above deal with fathers who neglect their families. I’m sure there are mothers that have also neglected their families but can’t think of any examples at the moment. Could that be that because more women are default primary caregivers to their children that more fathers allow themselves the luxury of being drunken deadbeats? Just something to consider.

    I too recommend ‘Alcohol and the Writer’. I read it around 20 years ago and it’s excellent and provides quite a bit of insight into the link between intoxication and creativity.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re absolutely right, Brian — alcoholics and alcoholism are no strangers in Dostoyevsky’s work. The Karamazov father is one of literature’s nastiest, most unsympathetic drinkers.

      Yes, drinking also permeates nonfiction. The father in “Angela’s Ashes” is a great, sad example. There’s also Pete Hamill’s “A Drinking Life” memoir (which I haven’t read).

      Most probably more male than female alcoholics in fiction and nonfiction and real life (I’m sure the reason you mentioned helps explain that), though Gervaise in Zola’s “The Drinking Den” is certainly a vivid female exception.

      And thanks for seconding the enthusiasm for “Alcohol and the Writer”! I’m guessing F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and William Faulkner are among the authors mentioned in that book…

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  18. I don’t know of a more in depth story of an alcoholic than that of Geoffrey Firmin in “Under the Volcano” by Malcolm Lowry. A former British counsel visiting Mexico, he continues his drinking with a vengeance, a habit that has thus far ruined his entire life. His wife follows him to Quauhnahuac, hoping to repair their sinking marriage and rescue him from his chosen life of despair, depression, and drunkenness. She is not happy to find that his half brother, plus another man, a childhood friend, have also come to visit Firmin. This is the story of one day in their lives in a fantastical place.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Thanks, Dave. If you want to learn more about the relationship between alcohol and authors — especially Nobel Literature winners — I recommend a 1990 book by Donald W. Goodwin called “Alcohol and the Writer.” I read it years ago and found it fascinating.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That book DOES sound fascinating, Bill. Thanks! Donald W. Goodwin had a LOT of material to work with, and it appears he did a great job with it. “Alcohol and the Writer” would have been a perfect book for me to read before writing this week’s column. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  20. Dave Astor On Literature has been, from its inception, one of my favorite places to virtually visit. Beyond the interest in books all readers can claim, there is here, thanks most of all to Dave himself, a dependable kindliness of spirit, a supportive atmosphere in which we all can feel free to write about the topic of the week, or content ourselves to read what others have contributed to the site. Dave and several contributors have inspired a few of my reading choices of late, and I know I have introduced a few books to others.
    When I sent my wifeโ€™s new book, Grail Nights, to Dave to read, I had hoped he would enjoy itโ€”but I never thought he would mention it in one of his columns. I am so pleased he chose to do so, both in todayโ€™s, and previously.
    To his generosity, I would like to add my own, in gratitude to Dave, and in gratitude for the happy hours I have spent, and plan to spend, on site. Amanda Moores and I have privately published our own edition of her newest book, Grail Nights, which we will mail by USPS to any blog site reader who requests a copy, absorbing all costs. Just e-mail Dave your shipping address, and he will pass it along. In a few days, a copy of Grail Nights will arrive at your door.

    Grail Nights is a connected series of tales set in the early 1980โ€™s, told from the point of view of Sheila Fitzgerald, bartender of Dauphineโ€™s, which is located in New Orleansโ€™ French Quarter. The wonders she relates include: a mysterious death inspired by a century-old letter, a magical violin, a ghost story, a person who returns from the dead, a cockfight, and more.

    The entire edition is limited to 100, and each book will be signed and numbered by the author. Though we intend to have up some sort of webpage or facebook site for Grail Nights in the near future, there will be no e-book or any sort of digital version in the near-term, so for now, Grail Nights is available only as a flesh and blood book, and available only from me. And should we find a commercial publisher for Grail Nights, this edition will be a rarity!…which I hope might entice some among the readership here to want one.

    Amanda Moores previously published Dream Palace, a novel also set in New Orleans, with Carroll and Graf in 1994. Grail Nights is her second book.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jhNY, thanks so much for your very kind words about this blog and the great commenters who post under it! Much appreciated — as are your always-eloquent comments during other weeks. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Thanks also for your additional description of Amanda Moores’ book and your exceptionally generous offer to send it to readers here!

      I neglected to note in my column that you designed the terrific look of “Grail Nights”; I’ll rectify that after I post this comment. ๐Ÿ™‚

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