Drinking with Men by Rosie Schaap (audio)

drinking with menI picked up this memoir for what I’m sure are obvious reasons. The title alone appeals to me: I am, ahem, a drinker, and a tomboy who’s been most commonly and comfortably in the company of men. Read a blurb, and find out further that Rosie Schaap is a fan of hanging out in bars, which puts her generally in male society; I’m right there with her.

And I was immediately charmed at this audiobook, read by the author in her somewhat gravelly (drinker’s, smoker’s) voice. She opens the introduction by calling herself a serial monogamist when it comes to bars: she becomes a regular at one for a year or years, then moves to another to which she will also be faithful for the medium-long-term. This memoir is organized by bars where she achieved “regularhood” (a status that she points out is even more overwhelmingly male-dominated than bar-drinker-hood generally), and covers the rest of her life – relationships, school, careers, living arrangements – as it relates to the bar, mostly. Her brother, parents, and husband get sketched rather more lightly than do her drinking buddies, for example. Her bars are located in New York City, small-town Vermont, Dublin and Montreal – but mostly New York City, her hometown and persistent home.

As expected, and as her first few lines indicated, I felt a real connection with Rosie. (I consider us to be on a first-name basis, as we would be on our barstools.) Her inexplicable (to some) comfort going to bars alone as a woman struck a note with me: I share that comfort (at the right bar, of course), and confirm her observation that this is rare behavior. I certainly agree that the definition of the best sort of bar is where one can go alone while female – and even read a book, or carry a conversation without shouting. (See here.) I also agree that these bars can come in different shapes and sizes (well, small is the ideal size), and that they overlap, but not entirely coincide, with dive bars. I often felt as if she were speaking right to me – like this is a long-lost sister I’m listening to. How lovely. We should get a drink sometime.

She did lose me for a little while mid-way, when she got enthused about religion and becoming a minister. I couldn’t follow her there; we got separated; and I worried that we had taken permanently distinct roads. But she sort of let that part of her story lapse; I don’t know if that part of her life lapsed, too, but I was certainly okay with the book taking that turn. Personal preference, there.

Rosie’s life has taken a few turns that I think will be familiar to many of us: youthful rebellion, difficulty determining What She Would Do With Her Life, and a troubled marriage. She experience 9/11 as a New Yorker, and lost her father the same season. She moved away a few times, and returned. And she has had some very cool relationships with some very cool bars. I felt very close to her as I experienced what she had written, and as she read it aloud for me. I think that has to be one of the aims of memoir.

As an aside, I had a fun “aha!” moment: as Rosie talked to me, I had a niggling feeling of deja vu. I recalled a story I’d read somewhere, about a young woman in a bar wearing an ugly hat, who was approached by an intimidating biker who wanted to buy her hat for his friend. It was a good story, and I was reminded of it. Sure enough, just as I was wondering, she told it. I figured out that I’d read it in the New York Times Magazine, courtesy of my mother. (You can read it here.)

Schaap’s writing style sort of disappeared for me, which I mean in a good way: that is, that there was no discernible style. It just felt like she was telling her story. I would have enjoyed ten times this length of the same – although on the other hand, she seems to have shared exactly the right amount.

If you’re at all interested in bar culture or women in a men’s world – I recommend Rosie’s story told in her own voice.

Rating: 9 pints.

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