Programming Note: This is a Very Special Episode of First Monday, as it features contributions from both bS and Daneekas Ghost. Enjoy!
Man, these are tough times around the Nation. Tough times require tough action. Fortunately, I chose a book this month that fits the times -- a book about whiskey.
I picked up a hardback copy of Kate Hopkins' 2009 book, 99 Drams of Whiskey: The Accidental Hedonist's Quest for the Perfect Shot and the History of the Drink for a song at my local used book store recently.
What is whiskey, you ask? Why, whiskey is mediocre beer made over into nobility.
If when you say whiskey you mean the devil's brew, the poison scourge, the bloody monster, that defiles innocence, dethrones reason, destroys the home, creates misery and poverty, yea, literally takes the bread from the mouths of little children; if you mean the evil drink that topples the Christian man and woman from the pinnacle of righteous, gracious living into the bottomless pit of degradation, and despair, and shame and helplessness, and hopelessness, then certainly I am against it.
But, if when you say whiskey you mean the oil of conversation, the philosophic wine, the ale that is consumed when good fellows get together, that puts a song in their hearts and laughter on their lips, and the warm glow of contentment in their eyes; if you mean Christmas cheer; if you mean the stimulating drink that puts the spring in the old gentleman's step on a frosty, crispy morning; if you mean the drink which enables a man to magnify his joy, and his happiness, and to forget, if only for a little while, life's great tragedies, and heartaches, and sorrows; if you mean that drink, the sale of which pours into our treasuries untold millions of dollars, which are used to provide tender care for our little crippled children, our blind, our deaf, our dumb, our pitiful aged and infirm; to build highways and hospitals and schools, then certainly I am for it.
This is my stand. I will not retreat from it. I will not compromise.
--Noah S. Sweat, Jr., 1952
I'd dare say that we need a song in our hearts right about now.
Kate Hopkins is the author of the food blog Accidental Hedonist. Like last month's reviewed book at the old basement (Stefan Fatsis' Wild and Outside), this was her first book. Her most recent blog post directly addresses some of the "lessons learned" from her experience writing 99 Drams:
From a publishing point of view, not everyone needs to be a Dave Eggers or John Updike. For many outlets, the ability to sell books is far more important that finding a writer who has command of Strunk and White's Elements of Style. This is an unfortunate, yet very definitive aspect of the publishing world. Self-proclaimed expert writers from around the world can voice their displeasure at this, but it is not going to change this fact.
But from my perspective, I have to improve my writing technique. I have to leverage what I do well (which is "Voice", and research skills) against what I feel needs improvement (language structure, grammar), while at the same maintaining the schedule I need to hit that deadline. In the end, I want to be a better writer, but I also want to meet my professional obligations. Somewhere between those two points is where the reality of "professional development" sits. And if I want to write book three, book seven, and book twenty, it is in my interest to get better.
All this is a long-winded way for me to introduce my reactions to the book.
I won't argue with her self-criticism. This book is not a paragon of great writing, stylistically. But it is fun and fact-filled. The capsule whiskey reviews alone make it worth the price of admission.
Hopkins also demonstrates a competent hand at research. I learned a lot about whiskey making from this book.
Unfortunately, she also felt compelled to write a travel book, complete with a cutesy side-story of her interplay with her traveling companion. I could have done without about 75 percent of that sideline. It definitely leaned toward "written in my mom's basement" quality prose. She is on much firmer ground when she focuses on the whiskey.
Part I of the book focuses on Ireland and Scotland; Part II on North America. My favorite chapter involved an abortive attempt to visit Islay, a tour of Oban, then a trip to Glasgow and a glorious tour of the lowland distillery, Auchentoshan, which holds a special place in my heart, as it produces one of the first single-malt Scotch whiskies that I'd ever explored.
This book isn't great reading, but neither is it bad. It's entertaining and informative enough to be worth your while if you are interested in whiskey and would enjoy learning more about brands, styles and whiskey history.
The Hugo nominees were announced this week, recognizing some of the year’s best science fiction. Here’s a list with links to the material that’s freely available. I have already read a couple of the nominated books (those by Chiang and Willis - in both cases I highly recommend their earlier work, the nominated books were good, but not outstanding), but every year I try to hunt down the short story nominees and give them a look.
This year, there were four nominees (all are linked below).
"Amaryllis" by Carrie Vaughn
This is my favorite of the four. I really enjoyed this one, in part because of the overall tone of the whole piece was just a bit different from what I think of as the standard science fiction style (it almost feels like a fantasy story instead).
"For Want of a Nail" by Mary Robinette Kowal
This one was pretty straightforward I thought. It tells a pretty good story, but nothing made me sit up and say “wow” like a couple of the other nominees.
"Ponies" by Kij Johnson
Almost too short to really get into the world it portrays, it still left me feeling not quite right (which is the goal of the writer, I think). The shortness makes it feel a bit heavy-handed, but overall a pretty good story.
"The Things" by Peter Watts
Very much liked this one, despite the fact that I haven’t seen the source material (John Carpenter’s The Thing). The last line caused quite a bit of discussion, but I think it really fits the entire story and delivers a huge punch.
I didn’t want to give away too many plot points, so I kept my thoughts brief, but if people have read them and want to discuss them more, I would love to offer my two cents below.
What are you reading?