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).


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