Duck Duck Book

62 – everyday drinking
07.12.2009, 12:03 am
Filed under: technology

Everyday drinking : the distilled Kingsley Amis.
New York : Bloomsbury USA, 2008.
[MCL call number: 641.21 A517e 2008; nine copies, no holds]

If you are already a drinker, no doubt you can carry on without the aid of experts — the imbibing of alcohol is not an art that requires any particular level of elegance or finesse.  But, if you desire advice, or if you are interested in refining your skills, or if you’d benefit from a modest amount of humorous diversion, you might take a look at Everyday Drinking.

In this volume, Kingsley Amis, known as an author of fiction, but also a rather notorious lush, provides instruction on every aspect of drinking: choosing and buying alcohol, learning the facts you’ll need to discuss it with actual wine or liquor snobs, assembling bar equipment, planning a cocktail party, making the drinks, serving the drinks, fooling your guests into thinking the drinks are better than they in fact are, cleaning up, and managing your hangover.  Amis’s advice is often helpful and the majority of it is quite sincere, but it is his snotty-pants tone that really makes the book worth reading.  For example, in the section listing the most essential tools for the bar:

“1. A refrigerator.  All to yourself, I mean.  There is really no way round this.  Wives and such are constantly filling up any refrigerator on which they have a claim, even its ice-compartment, with irrelevant rubbish like food.”  (page 38)

Amis goes to lengths to educate readers about the various French and German wines, how they are made, how they ought to be drunk, and when it is better to remember that if you are British, you could just as well drink beer.  He describes in detail a weight-loss diet for the drinking man, provides general advice to the drinking traveler, repeatedly cautions readers against imbibing too many sweet drinks (they are, in his view, sure-fire hangover-producers), and gives an artfully constructed plan for successfully posing as a booze expert in mixed company.

But his in-depth chapter on dealing with a hangover may be the best part of the book.  It includes a helpful dissection of the hangover into its constituent parts.  These are, chiefly: the physical, which, obviously, consists of the physical symptoms, headache, sensitivity to light, stomach upset, achiness, excessive thirst, etc.; and the metaphysical: “the psychological, moral, emotional, spiritual aspects: all that vast, vague, awful, shimmering metaphysical superstructure that makes the hangover a (fortunately) unique route to self-knowledge and self-realization” (page 79).  Amis follows with practical advice for dealing with each aspect of the hangover.  For the physical hangover, rest, liquids, a hot shower and/or bath, etc.  For the metaphysical hangover, an initial affirmation that the ravages of the hangover are just that, rather than evidence of a greater moral or social failing on the part of you, the afflicted person; followed by a course of hangover reading and listening, carefully chosen to guide you from misery through to calm, without having to linger too long with self-reflection and self-pity.

Everyday Drinking collects three previously long-out-of-print volumes: On Drink, Every Day Drinking, and How’s Your Glass? The first is a compendium of drinking advice, arranged in topical chapters, the second is a collection of newspaper columns on various drinking topics, and the third is a series of drinking tests (multiple choice and essay) intended to gauge and improve the reader’s knowledge of drinking subjects.  This newly reprinted and collected edition begins with a brief introduction and glossary for American readers — the glossary is a real relief to anyone who is not familiar with the odd Briticisms (and perhaps Amisisms?) Amis employs: “hock,” “the local,” “Malvern water,” “stroppy,” etc. The book also has a decent index, and although there is no bibliography following the text, the second chapter of On Drink (page 9 in this volume) is really a bibliographic essay on drinking literature (current to the early seventies, when this part of the book was originally written).


62 – lavoirs
07.12.2009, 12:02 am
Filed under: art & entertainment

Lavoirs : washhouses of rural France / Mireille Roddier ; foreword by Billie Tsien.
New York : Princeton Architectural Press, c2003.
[MCL call number: 720.944 R686L 2003: one copy, no holds]

In the 17th century, local governments in France began to build a new kind of municipal facility: lavoirs, or washhouses.  They were simple, solid affairs (usually built of stone) designed to channel water for from streams and rivers into large basins, or catch it when it rained.  Housewives and professional wash-women came to these communal facilities to launder clothing and linens, and they remained in use, in some places, until the time of the Second World War.

Many, many lavoirs have been demolished, but some remain, especially in smaller and more remote towns, and in towns where the lavoir was built together with another facility such as the town hall.  For those of us who cannot make a tour of lavoirs, Mireille Roddier carefully and beautifully photographed several dozen for her book Lavoirs: Washhouses of Rural France.

I found the images startling — the buildings themselves are lovely in a utilitarian way, but noticing this, I also can’t help but notice that they are not being used.  In every picture, the water in the basins and channels are still, and the large rooms are empty of people and laundry.  The photographs look quiet, exactly the opposite of how they must have been when in use, full of women working, talking, splashing water; maybe laughing or singing or arguing.  It’s eerie to see pictures of these lovely buildings with their picturesque pools and rills glassy and smooth in a way they would originally have been only at the start of the workday, or at night.

The bulk of Roddier’s photographs are preceded by an essay explaining the history of lavoirs as buildings and as civic facilities, regional variations in architectural style, and other architectural matters.  The essay also discusses the social impacts of lavoirs, together with a brief history of their use and a bit of explanation of the place laundresses held in French society during the period when lavoirs were common and in regular use.  All this is fascinating, and useful for explaining just what is represented in Roddier’s photographs, but the book would be worthwhile just for the beauty of those photographs.

62 – 45 rpm
07.12.2009, 12:01 am
Filed under: art & entertainment

45 RPM : a visual history of the seven-inch record / edited by Spencer Drate.
New York : Princeton Architectural Press, c2002.
[MCL call number: 741.66 F745 2002; one copy, no holds]

The 45 was once the very height of pop music cool.  Singles were cheap, easy to carry around, and provided a quick musical fix without the commitment of an LP.  If you wanted a hit, it came on a 45, adulterated only by a (usually) forgettable song on the B-side; whereas LPs were full of all kinds of non-hit nonsense you’d never hear on the radio.

But in addition to filling a particular musical niche, 45s were physical objects as well.  Albums have album covers, where great strides in graphic design can be made.  Or sometimes, not made.  45 RPM chronicles the evolution of singles’ cover art, from the 1950s when classical, jazz, dance music, and pop were all put out on seven-inch records; through the 60s, 70s, and 80s when Top 40 hits were all available as singles; and finally to the 1990s, when 45s were an important medium of the alternative music scene.

The images in 45 RPM are widely varied.  Two Frank Sinatra records (on facing pages) feature lovely painted covers that look like nothing so much as hard-boiled pulp novels.  Duke Ellington is caught in a terribly modern candid photograph, hatted, smoking while sitting at his piano and not looking at the camera at all. Fabian, Elvis Presley, Chubby Checker, Paul Anka, and Roy Orbison gaze directly at us, gorgeous and wholesome but maybe a little dangerous with their hair pomaded and sweet smiles on their faces.  The Rolling Stones and Sam the Sham and the Pharos are all dressed up in costume.  The Foundations, The Yard Birds, The Impressions, and America are just standing around in very stylish looking groups, as if their carefully arranged portraits were wholly candid.  Al Green is relaxing in a white chair in a white room wearing a white suit and white shoes, radiating calm and cool.  The B-52s are half cartoons. The Clash have assumed the position, hands up against the wall and facing away from the camera. In the selection of covers from the 90s, artists don’t appear at all — Instead there are cartoons, mock newspaper advertisements, photo montages, and a little more artsy irony than is perhaps truly necessary.

The record cover images are arranged in groups, by decade.  Within each section, however, there is no firm logic apparent in the arrangement — if there are several records from a particular artist or group within a decade, they’re usually shown one after another, but that seems to be it.  This is unfortunate, especially in the first decade during which the range of genres is broad.  Also, each 45 cover is shown solo, with no caption or explanation accompanying it.  This successfully highlights the visual aspect of the covers, but since some of them are completely wordless, it’s a little frustrating if you don’t recognize the band or the record.  There is a discography in the back of the book readers can use to track down which record is what, but it doesn’t list page numbers or other clear identifying data, and flipping back and forth is inconvenient.

On the other hand, I will say that after looking through the book, I had a whole afternoon’s worth of songs playing in my head.  Maybe visual stimulation is a really good way to get my brain to start replaying what it knows?  I can’t say, but I will tell you that I as I type I’ve got Ella Fitzgerald doing “Cheek to Cheek,” Talking Heads with “Take Me to the River,” Tom Jones’s “She’s a Lady,” Aretha Franklin doing “Freeway of Love,” Nat King Cole singing “Unforgettable,” Motorhead’s “Ace of Spades,” and Elvis Presley’s “Are you Lonesome Tonight,” all playing in the jukebox of my mind.  Catchy.