Bookworm: Fans of fun history, cheers!

And books for the true crime lover

Terri Schlichenmeyer

“Girly Drinks: A World History of Women and Alcohol”

  • By Mallory O’Meara
  • c. 2021, Hanover Square Press
  • $27.99, $34.99 Canada; 384 pages

Your frothy blue drink doesn’t need a cover, but there is one. It’s a purple umbrella that hides the fresh fruit clinging to the side of your glass, just beneath the sugar crystals along the rim, floating on a kiss of distilled liquid. Nobody would consider this to be a manly drink, but so what? It all looks so delicious and with the new book “Girly Drinks” by Mallory O’Meara, bottoms up!

“Girly Drinks: A World History of Women and Alcohol” author Mallory O’Meara.

You can almost picture it: a group of your earliest ancestors, out hunting for a Mammoth when they stumbled across a pile of slightly rotten fruit. Mmmmm, they each take bites and find that it makes their heads pleasantly fuzzy. That, says O’Meara, might’ve been how alcohol was “discovered,” rather than invented.

However it happened, she says, women took big roles in the manufacture of alcohol from the outset. Beer, she says, was “a girl thing” at several points in history. Women were in charge of winemaking, early-on; in times when they were barely allowed to leave the house, women were still instrumental in making the alcohol. Even when the very idea of a drinking woman sent men into a tizzy, powerful women drank.

They also changed the landscape for alcohol.

“Girly Drinks: A World History of Women and Alcohol” by Mallory O’Meara.

Cleopatra loved to drink, but she did not drink to excess. She left that to Mark Antony, and their imbibing may have been part of why Octavius hated her so.

In Hildegard’s time, the women of Germany often became “alewives,” and their work allowed them to control who drank the ale. Meanwhile, with the blessing of the Pope, Hildegard of Bingen began to write about spirituality, nature, her “visions,” and medicine. It was she who first claimed that hops helps stop spoilage in beer-making.

Later, alehouses went from homes to separate buildings and were courting places before the Church made witches out of alewives. Catherine the Great used vodka as diplomatic gifts; the first celebrity female bartender served ‘em up in London; gin, rum, and whiskey were invented all around the same time; and then came Prohibition ...

Pink drinks with fruity-flavored liquor and decorative plastic gewgaws would never be considered a “manly” drink – ever. But, asks Mallory O’Meara in her introduction to “Girly Drinks,” since when is booze gendered?

That’s the point that runs everywhere throughout this book: the labeling of drinks today has a long background. The patriarchy was strong then, and it successfully hid the feminine footprints in nearly every kind of alcohol we imbibe.

Don’t think that this is a feminist rant, though. Think of it more like a few hours in a red pleather booth with water-rings beneath your wrists, slipping through time and geography, from ancient Greece to modern culture, Cleopatra’s Egypt to an inclusive bar in Ohio. It’s lighthearted but sometimes serious; and perfect for bar bets and ice-breakers.

Even better, if you’re hoisting one whilst reading.

Fans of fun history, cheers! Alewives, here’s to you! Bottoms up, New Year celebrants. Even if you’re only here for the tavern trivia, “Girly Drinks” has you covered.

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True crime, murder, and mayhem books from various publishers.

True crime, murder, and mayhem books

  • c. 2021, various publishers
  • $19.99-$29.95, various page counts

Lockdown wasn’t all bad.  It gave you an opportunity to catch up on your favorite television, for one thing. You had a chance to reconnect with people, to learn new skills, or take up a new hobby. It gave you time to clean house, de-clutter, and find things you forgot. And all that time alone was good for making mischief, mayhem, and murder – at least in a book ...

Readers who love true crime but don’t have time will be happy to find “She Kills Me: The True Stories of History’s Deadliest Women” by Jennifer Wright, illustrated by Eva Bee (Abrams Image, $19.99). In this book, you’ll read dozens of short but true accounts of cult queens, poisoners, Black Widows, torturers, and more. Some of the women may be familiar to you, while others will chill you with stories you’ve never heard before. This book also offers things to learn: how to tell someone’s a psychopath, when to spot a dangerous cult, and why divorce is better than a deadly alternative.

Speaking of wild women, you’ll be riveted by “America’s Femme Fatale: The Story of Serial Killer Belle Gunness” by Jane Simon Ammeson (Red Lightning Books, $20.00). More than a century has gone since Belle Gunness killed her first victim and she didn’t stop there. Belle went on to kill at least thirteen more people over the course of just over twenty years. Money was involved, of course, and she had a little bit of help now and then, but what’s creepiest about Belle are the circumstances of her death. And now you’ve gotta read the book ...

Readers who love true crime books know that no collection is complete without a book by an M.E., which is why “Final Exams” by Cyril H. Wecht, M.D., J.D. and Dawna Kaufmann, foreword by Anne Rule (McFarland Exposit, $29.95) is the book to find. Here, in great detail are four cases that will put you on the edge of your seat because they start at the beginning and take you all the way to the legalities involved. You might know Wecht from his other works, or from appearances he’d done on the news. If you don’t, here’s a great introduction.

And finally, if you love true crime but you want something a little different, try “Love Lockdown: Dating, Sex, and Marriage in America’s Prisons” by Elizabeth Greenwood (Gallery Books, $27.00). What is it like to have a relationship with someone who was in prison when you met? What are the ramifications, physically, emotionally, and financially? Greenwood has a unique viewpoint in this book because she had a semi-relationship with a man in prison, and her outlook adds a lot to this fascinating, compassionate, totally eye-opening account.

If these books don’t satisfy your craving for crime, then be sure to ask your favorite librarian or bookseller for help. They’ll have books in mind that will keep you reading now and all winter; all you have to do is ask.

Oh, and be sure to lock the door …

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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. Read past columns at marconews.com.