Welcome back, my lovely fellow people! This Thursday, I’m drinking my way through the book roundup. I never do that, I actually hate drinking, (lies) but I’m doing this all for you. This is what’s called dedication, and the fact I’ve managed to do a Thursday Book Roundup THREE FRICKING WEEKS in a row is actually fairly goddamn incredible in itself.
This week I’ll be rounding up books that feature that writerly-drinking glamorization, those books that make you kind of want to sell everything you own to go live in a squat in New York and drink red wine by the gallon in the name of artistic integrity – although I would recommend not doing that. This might be one of those things it’s better to live vicariously, through the pages of those writers who’ve been there, done that, and suffered the liver damage so you don’t have to. Enjoy.
Ham on Rye
by Charles Bukowski
I couldn’t have made a list like this and not included something by Bukowski. I could have chosen pretty much anything he’s written and it would be appropriate, but here I’ve gone with Ham on Rye, one of my favorite Bukowski novels. It’s a thinly-veiled autobiography of his life growing up in L.A. Bukowski’s writing is characterized by an elegant kind of crassness, a clear-eyed look into the underbelly of society. He also does not give any shits. Zero. He does not shy away from the grotesque, but welcomes it, and becomes it, and that in itself can be conversely beautiful. He’s also a shithead misogynist, but he’s still a good writer. This is a topic I will address in more depth very soon, because it is sadly a common problem with some of my favorite writers from the mid-twentieth century and before. Read with a cheap gallon of red wine at your side.
“Getting drunk was good. I decided that I would always like getting drunk. It took away the obvious and maybe if you could get away from the obvious often enough, you wouldn’t become so obvious yourself.” Charles Bukowski, Ham on Rye
Tender is the Night
by F. Scott Fitzgerald
F. Scott Fitzgerald was a well-known lush himself, but inhabited a decidedly different social strata from Bukowski. Tender is the Night is standard fare for anyone who’s read The Great Gatsby: young, successful people fall in love with the wrong people, a LOT of drinking and high-class flapper drama ensues, someone dies, someone has a nervous breakdown, yidda, yadda. The main thing here is that alcohol breaks down these relationships – in a decidedly glamorous way. It, however, ruined Fitzy’s real life rather less poetically. His friend and contemporary, Hemingway, had only this to say about his alcoholism: “…it was hard to accept him as a drunkard, since he was affected by such small quantities of alcohol.” Ouch! He couldn’t write movies, he didn’t even make a good lush. Poor Fitzy. He did, however, write some great books. I would rate Tender is the Night as far better than the Great Gatsby.
Hunter S. Thompson
Uhh, I’m not sure this book will make you want to drink, or get as far away as possible from drugs and alcohol forever because woah. Written without as much of the splashy for-the-shock as Fear and Loathing but with a bit more journalistic integrity (occasionally) makes this book all the more powerful. High-schoolers’ favorite rebellious writer ran with the Hell’s Angels in the ’60s, then wrote this, his first published novel.
The kind of lifestyles and people he writes about are sometimes overwhelming, and sometimes hard to believe although allegedly the gang would look over his notes and writing to make sure he was being accurate. His relationship with the Angels lasted for about a year, after which things soured (they beat the shit out of him.) As you do.
The results are crazy, and worth reading. In my opinion this book is highly undervalued as one of Thompson’s better works. Do read, but only if you’re prepared for the gruesome, sometimes awful things that people can do.
Honorable Mentions: These writers are known more for their own love of booze than their discussion of it in writing, but should not be forgotten.
Dorothy Parker, Ernest Hemingway, Jack Kerouac, Oscar Wilde, Edgar Allen Poe, Truman Capote, and William Faulkner. May your livers rest in peace at last.