Annnd The Drinking Club Is Back

To drinking, that is. You may have thought, based on past content, that this was a book blog. Guess again.

It’s felt harder and harder to connect over our shared love of wit and a good cabernet sauvignon since the worst Friday the 13th on record. And honestly, it hasn’t felt right to go about our business here like The Drinking Club can still meet up in a crowded corner booth at The Lovelace and gripe about our latest read. More pressing matters need our attention. Examples: the cops who killed Breonna Taylor haven’t been arrested. People are pretending we’re still not living through a pandemic. Breonna Taylor’s killers still haven’t been arrested. The US election will likely be a cluster (read: will definitely be a cluster). Breonna Taylor’s killers haven’t been arrested.

You did not need me, a white English major, to pontificate on these issues. Go to the experts–they are the people whose work we need to be learning and unlearning from. You know what we also don’t need? Another joke about these “unprecedented times.” Or a joke about how we keep saying “unprecedented times.” If I see it in one more millennial newsletter, my eyes will roll and become permanently lodged in the back of my skull.

What have we been doing, then? Not meeting to discuss the merits of 21st century literature. We’ve been Zooming, working, sleeping. Drinking. We’ve caught up a few times, but it’s hard to maintain a conversation past 30 minutes when no one has done anything except walk from their desk to their bed to the kitchen table and back to their bed (that’s not entirely true. DR works in a hospital managing the crap out of our essential workers and deserves more than a gold star, but that’s all we’ve got). As The Drinking Club’s (faithful? deluded?) scribe, I feel adrift without the companionship and snark of these incredible ladies. Maybe we are unmoored without the promise of a killer happy hour on the horizon.

Since we haven’t read anything together since A Year of Magical Thinking (what a time to read that), I’ll share with you what books have been filling my socially-distanced life:

  • The Nightingale – this was purchased at last year’s Independent Bookstore Day, courtesy of AM’s recommendation. I completed it at 1am on a Monday in April because I could not physically put it down. Historical drama at its best.
  • Bringing Down The Duke – I spent a few delightful spring evenings swept up in this smart regency romance. What could be wrong with a book in a series called A League of Extraordinary Women?
  • A Court of Thorns and Roses series- I finally read these after high praise for years from dear friends of the Drinking Club and DD. This fantasy is enthralling, but I have one question: who read the first book and thought, we should totally market this to teenagers? I read parts of the second book, A Court of Mist and Fury, along the East River and thank god I had my mask on to hide my girlish blush.
  • Manhattan Beach – I know, I was supposed to read this last year. This story of three interconnected people, and their search to give their lives meaning and purpose, was compelling.
  • Party of Two – we’ve talked about Jasmine Guillory before, and in case it wasn’t clear, this is a Jasmine Guillory stan blog. I couldn’t work once I had started this book. If you’re not reading her work, I don’t know what you’re waiting for. They’re smart, they’re swoon-worthy, and you will want to be friends with all her protagonists. I loved this immensely.
  • Evvie Drake Starts Over – this is another DD recommendation, being the fastest and most dedicated reader among us. It was charming and a touch melancholy, and the happy-for-now ending I was looking for.
  • Just Mercy – this needs to be required reading for everyone. Bryan Stevenson documents the harm our criminal justice system and our society’s racial inequalities do to Black people, and in particular, his clients on Death Row. He does this by shining a light on the humanity of the people he has worked with, the humanity that racist people and policies attempted to take from them. My favorite line from the book was: “the death penalty is not about whether people deserve to die for the crimes they commit. The real question of capital punishment in this country is, Do we deserve to kill?”
  • The Wife – this crime thriller was twisty and turny and left me with so many questions. I need a sequel. This book also has one of my favorite crime fiction protagonists. We need more stories with Detective Corrine Duncan taking charge.
  • Beach Read – oh, what I wouldn’t give to move to North Bear Shores. Specifically, to the house next to Gus Everett’s. I’ve already told DD about this plan, and she approves.
  • To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before – this was the second book selected by my grad school book club (the first being Just Mercy). We’re really running the gamut here. But there are few things better than sweet high school romances and even sweeter sister relationships. Though there was a consensus amongst the group that Movie Peter is better than Book Peter. You can keep your opinions about this to yourself.

What’s next on my illustrious reading list, you might ask? I will tell you.

Did we also just skim over the fact that I’m cheating on The Drinking Club with my grad school book club? Yes, I did.

Right now, I’m a quarter of the way through Ninth House, and just started Riot Baby. Thus far, both are phenomenal. I’ve also been working my way through Me And White Supremacy. I know it will be the most important book I do.

As the weather cools and PSL achieves world domination, we’ll be back with some of our regularly scheduled programming and biting humor. We do hope everyone is taking care. We’re lifting our last glasses of summer rosé to you.

Until next time,

EV

Trouble Reading? Us too.

I have a friend who worked as a tour guide in NYC before *gestures at all this*. She regularly made the trek by ferry from Lower Manhattan to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island with a gaggle of tourists. She visited so much that she began to feel as though Lady Liberty were speaking to her as the ferry approached. To my friend, her voice sounded like Owen Wilson’s (she’s a gifted storyteller). I share this because I think the books on my bedside table might start talking to me, and they won’t say anything nice.

Even before we woke up in Stephen King’s nightmare, I had trouble diving into a good read. It has taken me longer to become absorbed in a book, and I can’t blame my phone for it. Our current circumstances have made it even more challenging. This informative Vox piece explains that we can’t concentrate these days because we’re anxious (duh). While anxiety manifests differently in all of us, we generally can’t concentrate because we’re living in uncertain times, and our search for the answers reinforces this uncertainty. Hence why we can’t read more than a page of the latest Emma Straub after our deep dive into antibody tests.

Not only have I not been able to read, I haven’t been able to write. I took the vacations days I had planned for LL’s wedding, imagining all the reading and writing and organizing and learning I would get done. I had outlined this post almost two weeks ago, envisioning the blogging benchmarks I would smash by the end of the month (the ego knows no bounds). Then Memorial Day rolled around, and all I could do was bake cobbler and watch Sweet Magnolias (the ego seeks solace in Ben & Jerry).

During this time, I reorganized my bookshelves to collect all the books I hadn’t read. It’s half a Billy bookcase. The guilt and inadequacy are crushing. And what makes it worse? Realizing the only books you really want to read are “beach reads.” I want charm and decadence and hometown crushes. The things the guy in your MFA program would put his cigarette out on (who am I kidding? He vapes now). The anxiety-guilt-inadequacy spiral becomes a vortex.

It has taken a pandemic to learn this lesson: have compassion. Will the world stop spinning if I don’t read 10 chapters of Manhattan Beach this weekend, or pen 6 posts a month? Am I less of a person because of those things? The answer is obviously no, but it’s harder to reach that conclusion when it seems our output is the only thing we can control these days. We all need reminders to find enjoyment where we can, and let go of the judgments of others. Emma Straub put it best: “the only feeling that people should have about books they haven’t read yet is HOPE!”

Now, instead of anticipating taunts, I imagine soothing voices coming from the spines on my shelves, saying they will be here when I’m ready. The itch for an afternoon spent watching the sun pass over the edges of a paperback is slowly returning, and I hope to spend more days this summer (safely indoors or masking in the sunshine) tucked into a book. Whatever book I freaking want.

Until next time,

EV

The Drinking Club Reads from Quarantine

After reading multiple articles about all the things we could be reading during this time (some of which I shared here), we figured it was time the Drinking Club compiled its own recommendations, on this the 37th week of quarantine. Recent reports, however, indicate that people no longer have the attention or desire to read due to our collective hell. To which we say: fair.

However, if you do feel inclined to spend an evening absorbed in a reality that is not…(gestures to all this), below are some books you can’t go wrong with. And because it’s us, there are a few we recommend you steer clear of. This list is provided by DD, quite possibly the most well-read member of the Drinking Club (AM is also in this category, but is occupied at the moment with her own consumer research project). So, without further ado, here are the books keeping us on the brink of sanity, and a few we’re regifting once this is all over:

  • Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
    • DD says: A perfect romantic comedy escape from the sad state of single quarantine life.
  • Circe by Madeline Miller
    • DD says: Another wonderful escape, this one set in the world and lore of Greek mythology. It’s told SO well and I flew through it… and am now very invested in learning more about the Greek gods.
  • Ayesha At Last by Uzma Jalaluddin
    • DD says: A modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice set in a Muslim community in Canada! It’s wonderful, quick, and fun!
  • The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien
    • DD says: I’ve never read the books OR seen the movies so I am very excited to finally check this off my bucket list!! Fully expecting these to take me through at least the next 2-3 weeks!
  • Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
    • DD says: I KNOW THIS IS ON YOUR BOOKSHELF AND I PROMISE NOW IS THE TIME. I LOVE IT SO MUCH. It’s great.
    • Editor’s note: it’s moving over to the bedside reading stack.
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
    • DD says: After reading Ayesha at Last I couldn’t stop thinking about this OG Austen novel so here I am, having reread it for the zillionth time (the limit does not exist).
  • The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
    • DD says: If you are a fan of fantasy this is a MUST. It’s a long read, perfect for a quarantine project, and has all the elements of a great fantasy novel (magic, love, revenge, mystery).
  • Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
    • DD says: For all the acclaim it just did NOT do it for me. Maybe I’m not in the right mindset for it but I really had to force myself to get through each chapter and when I finished the book I just kind of felt “meh.”
  • A River of Stars by Vanessa Hua
    • DD says: I tried to read A River of Stars and got through maybe 60 pages and gave up.

 

Until next time,

EV

The Happiest Hour – 3/28/20

When you start the day with mimosas at 8am to catch up with a friend living overseas, you’re doomed to spend the rest of the day polishing off that cheap prosecco, right? MM is gonna have a fun time with me today.

Earlier this week, the Drinking Club caught up over FaceTime for a cathartic Whine and Wine session. In this time of physical distancing (which is now what I’m calling it, after seeing it in a newsletter–social distancing is too bleak), every phone call, Skype, and email feels precious. My hope is that we continue to engage and extend ourselves long after this crisis is over. A girl can dream. DR is dreaming that COVID is the end of hugging. She may get her wish.

Here’s what you missed this week:

 

Cheers,

EV

The Happiest Hour – 1/31/20

Well, we made it to the end of the first month of the new decade. I honestly did not think I was going to survive last week after my Amtrak train was oversold. You know it’s bad when even the priests won’t give up their seats.

Here’s what you missed these past weeks:

  • Stuck finding your next read? This might help. (Forge)
  • Well, there goes my plan to color code my bookshelf. (Architectural Digest)
  • This article made me wonder how many Blairs and Serenas are roaming the halls of elementary schools across the country. (The Atlantic)
  • On a more serious note than we usually take over here: the publishing industry stepped in it again with their campaign for American Dirt. While the outcry around its publication will hopefully launch the overdue conversation we need to have about diversity in publishing, check out these 17 books by Latinx writers you can read if you want to learn about life along the US Border. I once had the privilege of manning a registration table outside of a room where Luis Alberto Urrea was speaking, and the reaction from people as they exited the lecture was pure transcendence. Let’s give these writers the recognition they deserve. (Texas Observer)

 

Cheers,

EV

The Happiest Hour – 1/18/20

Snow days call for unpronounceable red wines and homemade chocolate chip cookies. If that sounds like a pole vault into Calorie City, don’t worry: my ancient radiator will make sure I sweat it out by daybreak.

Here’s what you missed this week:

 

Cheers,

EV

The Happiest Hour – 10/12/19

I’ve traded the chaos of NYC life this weekend for the chaos of a suburban NJ mall. At least the air is cleaner?

Here’s what you missed this week:

 

Cheers,

EV

The Happiest Hour 9/22/19

At the end of this post waits a mimosa and a nap after three conferences in two weeks. So let’s get to it.

Here’s what you missed this week:

 

Cheers,

EV

The Club Gets Meta

As a book nerd and goody two-shoes, I sometimes wonder what it would be like if The Drinking Club were a…different kind of reading group. It should come as no shock that book clubs run the gamut from studious to drunk and disorderly. On those nights when sleep is a distant memory and I’ve watched four episodes of Madam Secretary, I wonder: how would The Drinking Club dynamic change if we pulled reading guides, and not canned wine, out of our bags? The written word is a topic guaranteed to transform this caterpillar into a conversational butterfly, so I cherish (nay, actively seek) any conversation, about any book. Seriously. We wouldn’t be here if this weren’t true.

Then the New York Times published an article titled “Book Clubs Get Especially Clubby,” an exploration of the varied and niche book clubs that challenge what I and others have dubbed the Pinot Grigio model (in my readings, it’s Pinot Grigio and Pinot Gris, and only these, that are the go-to libation of these lowly gatherings). We have political junkies, acclaimed authors, artists, and everyone in between creating groups that mimic Lit 101. They invite authors to speak to them. Authors who were formerly presidents, for crying out loud. This is not your mother’s book club. Or The Drinking Club, for that matter.

So I needed to know: are these clubs the norm? Or do many across the country resemble us?

The answer is more complicated. For centuries, book clubs have existed, and there has been a clear delineation between those looking for an elevated cultural experience, and those looking to trade their literary thoughts alongside the hot goss, especially if it’s over a well crafted cheese board.

Most attribute the origins of the modern book club to 18th century English salons. Women of means hosted their friends in their homes to hear respected men speak on a variety of topics. They didn’t learn about these subjects during their formal education, because they weren’t allowed to have one. Le sigh.

In the 1920s, groups like the Book-of-the-Month Club and the Literary Guild expanded the book club population from high-brow intellectuals to a larger public who wanted to engage with the best literary works and the social movements of the time. These national groups and the tastemakers who ran them set the agenda, promoting the classic canonical texts (those ones you were supposed to read in college) and titles of similar literary quality to further cultural engagement. The snobbery was strong with these ones.

While the Minkuses of the world would like us to believe cultural education should be the only motivator for clubs, other research indicates that the OG meetings were born out of an equal desire to socialize and share their passion for reading. Clubs developed alongside the rise of libraries as gathering spaces in 18th century England. Readers realized they could expand their personal libraries by joining forces, sharing their books, and pooling resources to buy new ones. These book clubs often met over monthly dinners, and instituted some pretty strange rules. One example: a club member owed the group a bottle of wine if they revealed their vote for or against new member…or let a dog loose inside the meeting place.

This all changed in the US with the rise of access to college education after World War II. As more people enrolled, the need for extracurriculars to expand their knowledge was replaced with keggers. There’s also the fact that they way we’re currently taught to consume literature in school kills any desire to read for pleasure. It wasn’t until HRH and 2020 presidential candidate Oprah Winfrey launched Oprah’s Book Club and got housewives across America reading classics and debuts.

And what about today? Clubs seemed to be as polarizing as they were 200 years ago. We have those who prefer to consume the written word within social parameters that would make a straitjacket look cozy, and others who show up with a bottle of Pinot Gris and a book that still cracks when you open it. And now, clubs have the power to make or break relationships. It’s a battle of the Controllers and the Acquiesers.

Personally, I don’t need that kind of stress in my life. And that’s why, after all this research, I believe The Drinking Club is exactly the way it should be. Sure, only two of us show up having read the book. But being around people who appreciate the power of a great story, whether it comes from a paperback or the Thursday 3pm meeting, is infinitely better than any analysis of The Overstory I could find in a “serious” club. Yahdon Israel, founder of the Literaryswag, put it best when describing the growing diversity and expansion of thought in today’s book clubs: “The people at them are gonna be your collaborators, your co-conspirators, the people you start businesses and families with.”

 

Cheers,

EV

 

 

The Club Wonders Whether The Boston Tea Party Actually Happened

This afternoon, AM sent me this article with the subject line “This Just Feels Wrong.” The top 10 selections for the Great American Read were released a few days ago, and HALF of America’s favorite books are written by British authors.

What is the Great American Read, you ask? Why, it’s a public television program and competition to find the most beloved book in America. Was Beloved on this list? You bet, but the top ten was Fifty Shades of White. Has your favorite blog writer (oh, stop) seen all the episodes? No, but I have my first free weekend since Labor Day coming up, and I plan to catch up with a nice bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon, as it is the only thing I possess to warm my frigid body until my super decides to turn on the heat. Don’t have a TV to watch PBS and hear you favorite authors and celebs gush about books? Fred Rogers would be so disappointed in you.

Thus far, the top ten titles are: Charlotte’s Web; The Chronicles of Narnia; Gone with the Wind; Harry Potter; Jane Eyre; Little Women; The Lord of the Rings; Outlander; Pride and Prejudice; and To Kill a Mockingbird. If I need to tell you which ones were written by British authors, you shouldn’t be here. The only thing I can pick up from this list is that we’re feeling nostalgic in these uncertain times, given the amount of children’s books voted in, and books that were our English teacher’s favorites. We may also have a few Macfadyen fans in the house.

Whatever the case may be, here’s the most important part: voting ends tomorrow. So go show the Brits that we write good too. Or let your inner anglophile free. We don’t really care. Just go vote.

 

–E