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.

Teaser Tuesdays: Drinking with Men by Rosie Schaap

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.

drinking with men

I am loving this ode to bar culture masquerading as a memoir. I feel a kindred spirit, as Anne would say. And wouldn’t you just know it – how much do these lines resemble my words of just a week ago?

“You know what I want?” he asked me, quietly but excitedly, almost in a whisper. More glögg, I might have guessed. But that wasn’t it. “I want to have a bar,” he said, “where a woman could come in, sit down with a book, read, have a drink, and not be bothered.”

I have been raving about Rosie Schaap’s story. Do check it out. Stay tuned for my review.

poems & booze

Randomly – or less randomly, following the subject of yesterday’s review – I have something to share with you on this Tuesday morning. At my very favorite bar, there is a poem scrawled in chalk on the wall behind the taps & bottles. This is a fairly literary bar – they have open mic poetry nights and, I believe, book talks as well. One of my favorite things about this bar is how easy it is to show up after work and sit at the bar alone with a very fine beer and a book, and not be bothered – as a woman, not a ubiquitous experience. The bartenders are friendly – or to be clearer, I consider them friends – and other than their occasional company I’m left alone. So today I’ll pass on to you the poem featured at Mongoose vs. Cobra: At The Quinte Hotel by Al Purdy. (I accessed it here, and would note that there are a few slightly different versions floating around out there.)

I am drinking
I am drinking beer with yellow flowers
in underground sunlight
and you can see that I am a sensitive man
and I notice that the bartender is a sensitive man
so I tell him about his beer
I tell him the beer he draws
is half fart and half horse piss
and all wonderful yellow flowers
But the bartender is not quite
so sensitive as I supposed he was
the way he looks at me now
and does not appreciate my exquisite analogy
Over in one corner two guys
are quietly making love
in the brief prelude to infinity
Opposite them a peculiar fight
enables the drinkers to lay aside
their comic books and watch with interest
as I watch with interest
a wiry little man slugs another guy
then tracks him bleeding into the toilet
and slugs him to the floor again
with ugly red flowers on the tile
three minutes later he roosters over
to the table where his drunk friend sits
with another friend and slugs both
of em ass-over-electric-kettle
so I have to walk around
on my way for a piss
Now I am a sensitive man
so I say to him mildly as hell
“You shouldn’ta knocked over that good beer
with them beautiful flowers in it”
So he says “Come on”
So I Come On
like a rabbit with weak kidneys I guess
like a yellow streak charging
on flower power I suppose
& knock the shit outa him & sit on him
(he is just a little guy)
and say reprovingly
“Violence will get you nowhere this time chum
Now you take me
I am a sensitive man
and would you believe I write poems?”
But I could see the doubt in his upside down face
in fact in all the faces
“What kind of poems?”
“Flower poems”
“So tell us a poem”
I got off the little guy reluctantly
for he was comfortable
and told them this poem
They crowded around me with tears
in their eyes and wrung my hands feelingly
for my pockets for
it was a heart-warming moment for Literature
and moved by the demonstrable effect
of great Art and the brotherhood of people I remarked
“-the poem oughta be worth some beer”
It was a mistake of terminology
for silence came
and it was brought home to me in the tavern
that poems will not really buy beer or flowers
or a goddam thing
and I was sad
for I am a sensitive man.

From his book “Poems For All The Annettes.”

The Trip to Echo Spring: On Writers and Drinking by Olivia Laing

Laing’s poetic ruminations on the alcoholism of six authors will charm readers of travel writing, biography and literary criticism.

echo spring
Olivia Laing’s The Trip to Echo Spring studies six authors whose lives meet at the juncture of creativity and alcoholism. While Laing (who walked along the river where Virginia Woolf killed herself for her previous book, To the River) acknowledges she had many alcoholic writers to choose from, the half dozen she selected justify and reward her nuanced attentions. Though F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Tennessee Williams have been studied to the point of exhaustion, John Cheever, Raymond Carver and John Berryman have been less comprehensively examined.

Laing’s exploration of these extraordinary men’s lives has many facets. The Trip to Echo Spring, named for the bourbon favored by the maudlin Brick in Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, is partly literary criticism–and no lightweight in that department, showing serious attention to her subjects’ works. Meanwhile, the level of biographical detail reveals Laing’s interest in their intersections with one another in life as well as literature. There are hints of travelogue as well, as Laing crisscrosses North America to visit the crucial locations in these writers’ lives, from Hemingway’s Key West to Fitzgerald and Berryman’s St. Paul, Minn., to Port Angeles, Wash., where Raymond Carver finished his life.

The common themes Laing finds in the cities and the bars where these men drank themselves into misery, death, and art include swimming, fluidity and the cleansing properties of sea and stream. She delves into the biology and psychology of of alcoholism, with several forays into Alcoholics Anonymous, and finally touches on her own upbringing as the child of alcoholics. While she focuses on the relationship between writing and drinking, another key part of her journey is personal–but her own history with drunks is only gradually revealed and never takes center stage.

These disparate elements come together elegantly in Laing’s quietly contemplative prose. She is sensitive to the struggles of these tortured men (among them several suicides) and deeply appreciative of their accomplishments, but also clear-headed about their shortcomings and their abusive treatment of others as well as themselves. A lovely piece of writing in its own right, The Trip to Echo Spring is a fine tribute to artists as well as a lament for their addiction.

This review originally ran in the November 20, 2013 issue of Shelf Awareness for the Book Trade. To subscribe, click here.

Rating: 8 bottles.

just for fun: authors and their drinks

port-logoI just couldn’t help but share this mouthwatering article with you here. “Combined Measures: Great Writers & Their Drinks” features just five authors, but unlike some such articles I’ve come across, 100% of those featured authors are ones whose work I like; and all five drinks, as well, whet my palate. You will note that my favorite, Hemingway, is present (as he ever will be, where alcohol is discussed). I am tempted to try some of these myself… particularly the accompaniment to Kerouac’s cocktail, discussed on page one.

Enjoy. 🙂

And do share: which author, or drink, do you fancy?

Midweek Miscellany & hemingWay of the Day: on Spanish whisky

I have a sprinkling of things to share with you today.

One. I have updated my blogroll (look right–> and down some) to include all the blogs that I (try to) visit every day. And you will see ABOVE the blogroll, a short list of My Very Favorites. Check ’em out.

Two. I have a very favorite blog post of the day to share with you, too: it’s a review of a book called To Bed With Grand Music by Marghanita Laski and you can find this delightful post here. I am super intrigued by the idea of this book, and it’s completely due to the discussion of it by the Book Snob, so thank you Book Snob! This one goes on the list. Check that out, too.

Three. I am still reading By-Line: Ernest Hemingway, and still loving every minute of it. I may have to put it down at some point to pick up An Incomplete Revenge, the next Maisie book. But fortunately, as a collection of short pieces, By-Line is a pretty good book to put down and pick back up. I should also confess to now being in the middle of no fewer than five books. Hm. (The others are Whatever You Say I Am by Anthony Bozza; The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien; Dust by Martha Grimes; and The Club Dumas by Arturo Perez-Reverte. Eclectic, a bit.)

Four. Now for my daily quotation out of By-Line.

Beer is scarce and whisky is almost unobtainable. Store windows are full of Spanish imitations of all cordials, whiskies and vermouths. These are not recommended for internal use, although I am employing something called Milords Ecosses Whisky on my face after shaving. It smarts a little, but I feel very hygenic. I believe it would be possible to cure athlete’s foot with it, but one must by very careful not to spill it on one’s clothes because it eats wool.

(from Hemingway’s dispatch on Sept. 30, 1937 from Madrid, in covering the Spanish Civil War. incidentally the subject of perhaps my most favorite novel ever, For Whom the Bell Tolls, for which Hem pretty obviously collected his material during the very time when this dispatch was written.)

Does this make you laugh? It does me. I’m having a good day of laughing while I read; I usually laugh at the posts of Useless Beauty, books i done read, TERRIBLEMINDS, and Hyperbole and a Half, too. It’s a good day when you laugh out loud while reading.

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