So, fellow readers, you’ve just added twelve books to your Kindle queue and bought three used books at your local indie bookseller. If you’re anything like me, by this point you’re starting to experience chest constriction, loss of vision and muscle control, and a powerful desire to curl up under your bedsheets and never make a decision ever again. If you’re anything like me, you’re feeling overwhelmed by how many unread books are on your bookshelf, and the ever-diminishing number of days left to you in this life to read them all. If you’re anything like me, one hand is already unconsciously reaching out for that half-empty bottle of whiskey on the counter.
But thanks to years of experience self-medicating reading anxiety with booze, you, dear reader, don’t have to wallow in the straits of indecision – whether picking your poison or picking your prose. Here’s a quick and by no means comprehensive list of book-and-booze pairings that will get you through the worst moments of bitter regret over the unflinching reality that, really, you’re probably never going to read War And Peace.
1. Suspense Novels // Petite Sirah
Picked up Stephen King’s newest novel (or the last baker’s dozen)? Sat down with one of the new Gillian Flynn stories? Made it your personal mission to read every single Jack Reacher novel in existence? Time to pour yourself something as dark and deadly as your reading material. Nothing says suspense like inky black wine, as thick as blood and as dangerous as the gun pointed at your hero’s heart. A glass might get you through a few pages; a full bottle will get you through the sick plot twist at the end that makes you want to punch a baby (and maybe the author, too).
2. 20th Century Classics // Whiskey Cocktails
If you’re reading anything Hemingway, Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Vonnegut, Kerouac, Heller, Woolf, Eliot, Salinger, or any other such authors, you goddamn better have an Old Fashioned or a Manhattan in hand. Gin cocktails, such as a martini, negroni, or gin and tonic, will do in a pinch, but really, only the smokiness of whiskey can adequately pair with the maddening intensity of these classic authors. Nothing suits the Great War and Post-War literary period like the rich and supple flavor of a well-made Manhattan.
3. Science Fiction // IPA
I’m not sure why, but science fiction just always makes me think India Pale Ale. Maybe it’s because, once upon a time, India Pale Ales were a kind of science fiction. In the early days of British colonialism in India, the Brits started making beer in India, where it was vastly cheaper to produce. The only problem was how to transport it back to England before it spoiled in the heat of summer and the length of transport. The solution? Hops. A natural preservative, the English realized that by adding hops to their brews, they were able to withstand the long trip in barrel across the seas back home. Not to mention that the British were exploring a whole new world, much in the way science fiction heroes explore strange new worlds of literary creation. The bitterness and acidity of an IPA will keep you on your toes, just like the new worlds, fancy technology, and twists and turns of your average science fiction novel. Keep your eyes fresh and eager with a bottle or several of your local microbrew’s IPA while reading some sci-fi, and beat the shit out of those aliens while you’re at it.
(PSA: Colonialism sucks. No amount of good beer can change that, as much as we’d all like to think otherwise.)
4. Romance // Sparkling Rose
Nothing says romantic like the color pink, and nothing says seduction like a glass of bubbly. Get your Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, or Rebecca on with a crisp, dry, sprightly glass of sparkling rose, which is one of the most underrated wines in America. Living in the lap of luxury? Go Champagne, all the way, baby. On a budget? The Spanish are making some fantastic rose cava (which basically just means ‘sparkling’ in Spanish, although my translation is far from literal), which is so delectable it will practically force your star-crossed lovers to blow kisses at each other.
5. (Contemporary) Literary Fiction // German Riesling
Getting cozy with Jonathan Franzen or David Foster Wallace? Diving into Alex Shakar’s Luminarium or Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow? You need something as ephemeral, strange, and strong in flavor as these powerful (and, quite often, weird) works of fiction. An excellent bottle of kabinett or spatlese will have notes of sweetness, and, hopefully, the pungent flavor of petrol that is both foreign and intoxicating in good Riesling. Pretentious wine to match up to your pretentious literary habits (not to mention that it’s German, and what literary snob doesn’t love German?), Riesling is the perfect escort through the demented world of modern literary fiction.
6. Poetry // Argentine Malbec
For generations, the French had a monopoly on the romance of language. Then Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Jorge Luis Borges, and Pablo Neruda swept the French off their feet and redefined Spanish literature and poetry, and in doing so, the global literary scene. (There were a lot of other badass Spanish dudes involved too, but I don’t know them because I don’t speak Spanish.) The same thing happened with Malbec. The French though they had that shit under control. Then some priests started growing it in Argentina, and turned it into some pretty bitchin’ wine that was totally different from the way the French had been doing it. And then Borges threw a glass of Malbec in Jean-Paul Sartre’s face, and that’s how World War II got started. Just kidding. That didn’t even remotely happen. What DID happen, though, is that Malbec was finally given its day in the spotlight: as a svelte, lush, high-intensity wine that can seduce even the most un-poetic of drinkers. This pairing isn’t restricted to Spanish poetry, by the way. Feel free to drink your Malbec with everything from Apollinaire to Whitman to Frost to Gibran. It’s all good.
Perfect pairing: Cuvelier Los Andes’ Coleccion Malbec with Jorge Luis Borges poetry collection entitled Dreamtigers.
Got enough to get you started? Good. Go get your boozy booking on using these fantastic pairing suggestions, and tell me how they work out for you. Want more “What To Drink With What You Read” ideas? Drop me a note in the comments and maybe with enough positive encouragement I’ll pull myself away from the bottle of wine for long enough to write another post.