Bookworm: Crack open a cold one and ‘Greatest Beer Run Ever’

‘Domestic Revolution’ is welcome coal in your stocking

Terri Schlichenmeyer

“The Greatest Beer Run Ever: A Memoir of Friendship, Loyalty, and War”

  • By John “Chick” Donohue & J.T. Molloy
  • c. 2020, Wm. Morrow
  • $27.99, $34.99 Canada; 249 pages
“The Greatest Beer Run Ever: A Memoir of Friendship, Loyalty, and War” by John “Chick” Donohue & J.T. Molloy.

Nobody wants to go there. You really don't understand the appeal. There are no attractions, no fun rides, no true reason to be there, and people stay away in droves because nobody wants to go there. Except, as in "The Greatest Beer Run Ever" by John "Chick" Donohue and J.T. Malloy, when there's a mission involved.

In every neighborhood bar, there's a guy like Chick Donohue warming a stool and telling stories. Stories like, f'rinstance, the time in '67 when Donohue was at his "favorite bar in the Inwood neighborhood of Manhattan," and the bartender, the "Colonel" (who wasn't a colonel, but that's another story) said he was tired of the disrespect that soldiers got when they came home from Vietnam. The Colonel said those boys – his neighborhood boys – deserved to know that folks at home were supporting them. Somebody, he said, needed to take those boys a beer and give them a hug from home.

Well. Why not?

“The Greatest Beer Run Ever: A Memoir of Friendship, Loyalty, and War” by John “Chick” Donohue & J.T. Molloy.

Years before, Donohue served in Japan with the Marines, and was working as a merchant seaman then. That day, he was "on the beach" (between jobs) when the Colonel made his declaration, and Donohue knew he had "the right ID papers." He said he'd do it and by the next morning, it was too late to take back those words.

Eight weeks later, after having snagged a position on a warship that took him just northeast of Saigon, Donohue fibbed to the ship's captain, got a 3-day pass, and headed into the jungle to locate his childhood buddies – the first of which, coincidentally, he found within minutes of disembarking. The second guy, Good-Samaritan-like, happened to pick Donohue up on a dirt road heading north toward the DMZ, which is where the third guy was. But after a night in the trenches, Donohue had to split: he was four days into his three-day pass, and he had buddies yet to find.

Instead, returning to the dock, he found trouble: his ship, his only ride home, had left port without him. And it was almost Tet ...

You can see it in your mind's eye: a wooden bar, worn shiny by countless ice-filled glasses. Chrome stools with cracked red vinyl seats. The jukebox is on and somebody's holding court at the far end with a good story, so pull up a chair. Crack open a cold one, and "The Greatest Beer Run Ever."

Just don't expect some sort of silly, though, because authors John "Chick" Donohue and J.T. Malloy don't let this story go there. Readers who know their history will see that: there's danger in this true tale, and it's authentically told. Still, there's a classic sense of innocent adventure that wafts through this book, somewhat like a 1950s Boy Scout magazine, but with steel pots and grenade launchers.

Not surprisingly, this tale of friendship and duty also oozes warmth despite its tense setting. It's perfect for anyone over 60, especially veterans, who will absolutely understand every word. So look for "The Greatest Beer Run Ever" ... and go there.

“The Domestic Revolution: How the Introduction of Coal into Victorian Homes Changed Everything”

  • By Ruth Goodman
  • c. 2020, Liveright
  • $27.95, higher in Canada; 330 pages

Can you wear two pairs of stockings at the same time? That's a question some may ask this winter when the wind howls and the snow flies. How can you be sure you'll ever feel your toes again? Your mom used to tell you to "put on a sweater" when you were cold but that's not helping your feet. Or, as in "The Domestic Revolution" by Ruth Goodman, do you need a nice, warm fire?

“The Domestic Revolution: How the Introduction of Coal into Victorian Homes Changed Everything” by Ruth Goodman.

Long before history was recorded, many of our ancestors kept warm with fires made of dried grass or dung, but probably, mostly, wood. Wood, in fact, was the main heating-and-cooking fuel in Queen Elizabeth's day, though other organic materials were burned in a pinch when wood was scarce. By a mere half-century later, however, as Elizabeth lay dying, England had strongly embraced coal.

The change started as it began to dawn on sixteenth-century Londoners that wood sources might someday disappear. Town councils appointed caretakers to manage and conserve woodlands and hedges, but those efforts didn't solve any cold-weather problems. They were well aware of coal's properties; coal was used by the Romans in ancient times and in nearby communities, it was a "fuel of choice." Even the Welsh were pleased with the heat that coal gave off – but for Londoners, using it meant a learning curve and a need for new equipment and alterations to older British homes.

Burning coal, says Goodman, allowed houses to be outfitted with a single furnace that heated the whole house, rather than a fireplace or hearth that heated one room. With central heating, the size of the average home grew larger. As the price of coal went down, the price of wood rose and the latter became a status symbol in finer London homes.

Getting coal to the city required improvement to roads and ports. Coal changed and created industries, altered the way Londoners cooked and what they ate, the way they cleaned, and the way their decorated their homes. It changed England's very idea of comfort...

To get full enjoyment out of "The Domestic Revolution," it helps to know that author Ruth Goodman is a historian who time-travels – not in a Twilight Zone sense, but in that she regularly lives as one would in any given historical era. Here, she straddles several periods, including life in the Twentieth century, and she brings science aboard, too.

It's the latter, along with a lengthy look at wood, its forestry and management, differences, uses, and ways it can be burned, that makes the book sometimes feel ponderously slow. Yes, it's relevant information but not enough so, leaving readers feeling as though they're in a college-level seminar and the professor has digressed yet again. Fortunately, Goodman's wonderful, eyes-wide-open sense of exploration takes over, and the gee-whiz of it's appealing enough to make you stay.

Readers who love unique peeks at the past, and little-known tales (especially of British history) should look for this book and say, yes, please. "The Domestic Revolution" is coal you'll welcome in your stocking.

For more on life in England, look for "Mad & Bad: Real Heroines of the Regency" by Bea Koch. Filled with mini-biographies of wild women who refused to conform. Imagine the scandal! Gasp, and enjoy.

More:Bookworm: ‘Place for Everything’ covers the invention of writing

Also:Bookworm: New book moves Civil War story in a different direction

And:Bookworm: Holding multiple jobs? ‘Worked Over’ is for you (if you have time)

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.