The Bookworm: The alcohol at hand; shouldering the pain
“A Sidecar Named Desire”
- By Greg Clarke and Monte Beauchamp
- c. 2018, Dey St.
- $19.99, $24.99 Canada; 183 pages
The holiday season started with a cup of cheer. Then there was a sip of wassail, some mistletoe and wine, and rummy-tum-tum along the way. It’ll likely end with a cup of kindness yet for “Auld Lang Syne” and a pretty nice headache. The only thing left to do, then, as in the new book “A Sidecar Named Desire” by Greg Clarke and Monte Beauchamp, is to write about it.
Imagine the surprise felt by one of our ancient ancestors who put a few grapes aside for a snack later. She must’ve been angry at first – and then pleasantly surprised.
Her discovery, and those that came after her, have been decried by “temperance zealots” throughout the years; Prohibition was a big thing and abstinence is promoted even now. And yet, say Clarke and Beauchamp, “considerable” evidence points to a tie between drinking and “great writing.”
Ancient Roman poets loved their wine, for instance, and Shakespeare was a big fan. Thomas Jefferson ordered cases and cases of it on a visit to France and author Roald Dahl not only drank it, but he wrote a short story about wine, too.
Beer was once used in lieu of a paycheck in ancient Egypt, but Greeks and Romans claimed that beer was “inferior” to wine. Even so, say the authors, Jack London loved his suds and Jane Austen made beer using a common ingredient available in her back yard. Norman Mailer claimed to “need” a beer every afternoon.
If you’ve ever wondered which came first, author Michael Veach says bourbon’s name came from Bourbon Street. Langston Hughes was said to have love a glass of it, and William Faulkner listed whiskey as one of his writing tools. Gin and tonic seems to have been a P.G. Wodehouse creation. E.B. White had a martini when suffering from writer’s block and Ian Fleming “inadvertently” helped vodka sales with James Bond’s martini instructions. Among other things, Hemingway loved Bloody Marys, Kerouac enjoyed margaritas, Steven King once said that alcohol use made for a “better writer,” and Hunter S. Thompson drank (mostly) bourbon and scotch. And Tolstoy?
Nope, he was a teetotaler.
A roaring fire, a glass of wine, and a good book. Is there a better trio? When the book is “A Sidecar Named Desire,” the answer is an emphatic “no.”
In beginning each chapter with a history of the proceeding alcohol at hand, authors Greg Clarke and Monte Beauchamp peek into the glasses of writers from antiquity to modern-day, literature to light reading. These are tasty sip-at-leisure chapters, more continuous sidebar than paragraphical, and perfect for browsing or a quick dip made possible by drawings that indicate a jigger of lightheartedness is shaken, not stirred in. And if you really like to get involved in your reading and want the full experience, there are recipes to try. Salud!
Imbibers and abstainers alike will love learning about their favorite writers in “A Sidecar Named Desire,” so have a little serving. Auld acquaintance may’ve been “forgot” but this is a book you won’t.
“(Don’t) Call Me Crazy”
- By thirty-three authors, edited by Kelly Jensen
- c. 2018, Algonquin Young Readers
- $16.95, $24.95 Canada; 228 pages
Ouch, you twisted your shoulder and it hurts. That’ll last awhile, but you’ll be okay. Might need a sling, maybe, but it won’t cramp your style; your friends will help. That’s what people do when someone’s hurt and they see that’s the case – but what about the illnesses they can’t see? In “(Don’t) Call Me Crazy,” an anthology edited by Kelly Jensen, you’ll read about diseases that often stay invisible.
Hang around older folks for more than a minute, and you might hear them mention their arthritis, bad back, bad knees, and other aches and pains. They do it openly because we have no problem talking about physical hurts or disabilities. So why is it hard to talk about mental health?
It shouldn’t be. People deal with mental health issues all the time and saying they’re “crazy” can mean different things. It can include an aversion to sounds or a way of looking at one’s body. It can be sadness or compulsion. Overall, though, the thing to remember is that even when it feels the messiest and most overwhelming, “crazy” does not define an individual. You can be a “Latina Feminist Mental Health Activist or a psychiatrist-in-training or someone who’s trying to deal with family issues, whatever, but the disease is not you.
Or maybe you don’t know even you have mental illness.
That happens. You go about living life, enjoying your quirks until someone says you’re “crazy,” and you go look it up. Surprise! Your quirk is suddenly in a book somewhere and you learn, to enormous relief (and maybe ill-placed embarrassment), that you’re not alone in this. And that’s the whole point: you’re not alone.
Whatever you’re feeling, there’s a chance that someone else has been through something similar. They’re not you, but they know your mania, your body dysmorphia, your OCD or PTSD or depression or anxiety or the isolation all these things might bring. They know and they’ve survived. They know “there’s always someone there to help … ”
Baby steps. That’s the simple takeaway from “(Don’t) Call Me Crazy”: just two words that a teen will learn when facing mental illness.
It takes thirty-three “voices” to get there, and each one hammers across the point – some with humor, others with fear that leaps between a reader’s hands, still others that offer a facts-only account that will comfort readers who don’t want embellishment. The writers featured here also come from different backgrounds, including those of color and a trans woman, all of whom are the least-discussed in mental health discussions.
The biggest help, though, comes from the sense of community that this book offers in the form of been-there stories from survivors and those who are works in progress. Either overt or implied, the words “It’s okay, you’re not alone” are here, everywhere.
Though it’s meant for 12-to-20-year-olds who desperately need its compassion, this book is a good start to a long adult conversation. “(Don’t) Call Me Crazy” could also offer good insight for professionals, parents, and friends to help shoulder the pain.
The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.