Friday, January 07, 2011

3. Everyday Drinking by Kingsley Amis

I received this book as a pleasant surprise xmas gift from my wife. I had never heard of it before, but it's certainly a book that I should know about. Lucky Jim is high on the list of my all-time favourite books, though I have never read another book by Amis.

Everyday Drinking is a collection of three previously published books on drinking by Amis, two of which, Every Drinking (1973) and On Drink (1983) were collections of his regular columns for a newspaper (the Times?) and the third, How's your Glass (1984) which is a long and challenging alcohol trivia quiz.

This is enjoyable, informative and even inspiring stuff. The first book is an excellent practical primer for the beginner and expert alike on how to drink. It gives sane, realistic and specific advice on how one should stock a home bar, how to one up wine snobs and get the better of cheap hosts (and also how to be a cheap host), the best strategies for dealing with a hangover and what kind of diet a lifetime drinker should have. I have come to enjoy alcohol and drinking a great deal in my middle years, but anybody who appreciates expertise should realize what a perfect expert Kingsley Amis was to write such a treatise. He was a lifelong practiced drinker with an expert eye on the foibles of human interactions (which is a big part of the fun of drinking, as Amis himself makes quite clear) and a brilliant and productive writer. This is a satisfying read simply because you really feel like you are in the hands of a master. Also, compared to a lot of similar foodie books of today, he always keeps his advice on the ground. I can't tell you how many recipes I just have to skip because the ingredients are not for sale anywhere outside of their point of origin or New York or LA. Other than the specifically British items (especially the beers), pretty much everything Amis suggests for you to start a lifetime of drinking can be found in any liquor store.

It's also quite funny. His acerbic and misanthropic wit is as sharp as ever here. He has a chapter on how to host a party, all based around avoiding sharing any of your good or expensive booze with the guests, but doing it in such a way to make the wives think you are super generous and gallant and the "old stagers" (the husbands who really want to get drunk) think you are cheap with the ultimate goal of ensuring that they have a good fight on the way home from your party. One nasty technique is in response to the old stager who demands a gin and tonic at a party where only wine is being visibly served. You fill up the glass with a lot of ice and tonic and then pour a small amount of gin gently over the back of a spoon so it lays on top of the ice. The first sip will taste quite strong, thus fooling the guest long enough. Yes, the privations of the Blitz sit deep with the Brits!

The quiz at the end is really tough and quite fun too. If I had any space left in my memory banks, I'd probably try and commit a lot of it too memory. It just seems cool to know.

Interestingly enough, after I had finished the book last night, I was thinking that it would be neat to find the original copies of these books. I thought to myself, this is the kind of book Louis XIV would probably be able to lay his hands upon. And lo and behold this very morning, he has a post up about the original hardback of On Drink in all its 70s British glory. Such a coincidence calls for a drink!


Louis XIV, 'The Sun King' (a.k.a. Nick Jones) said...

Cheers! Hic!

Book Glutton said...

This is off topic but I was just looking through some Tintin (The Crab with the Golden Claws) and realized your id picture is of Captain Haddock. This is probably obvious to everyone but I didn't know it.

Also - I'm sorry you didn't make it to 75. How you can already have three books done in 2011 is amazing. Should that Trollope you read in November count as three books? It was very long.