Why books and booze?
If you’re looking at this in a bookstore, odds are you’re a person who loves to read, or at least likes to read, or maybe you’re pretending you like to read to impress your love interest, or to convince your parents you’re not wasting your twenties living in their basement (yes, Mom, I am doing something with my life—reading the entire Western canon counts as “something,” right?). Or maybe you just picked up Infinite Jest or Underworld and you’re already trembling a little from the sheer effort of lifting the damn thing, by now wondering why on earth this bookstore doesn’t sell beer. Perhaps you finally picked up your copy of Fifty Shades of Grey (because you’re lying to yourself if you “don’t want to read it”) and are dying for a taste of Christian Grey’s luxurious lifestyle but have no idea where to start beyond handcuffs and hot wax. Or maybe, like me, you suffer from chronic reading anxiety about the fact that this bookstore is really freakin’ big and there’s literally no way you will ever be able to read every book under this roof, even if you wanted to, and are in dire need of an alcoholic beverage or some smelling salts to calm your nerves.
Well, you’ve come to the right place. Whether impressing a crush, tackling a stupidly long tome like Infinite Jest or Ulysses, or chronically anxious about the vast quantity of reading material in the world, this little text offers the solution to all your literary problems. The answer is booze. Whether drowning your sorrows after a tearjerker like Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief or self-medicating your way through Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, this book offers drink pairing recommendations for more than 150 classic and contemporary novels to get you through the best of times, the worst of times, and the most boring of times. I’m looking at you, Jonathan Franzen. (Just kidding. I haven’t even read your books yet.)
Maybe you’ve gotten this far into the introduction and you’re about to put the book down because you’re reading along and thinking, But what’s the point, Amira? Why do I need to know what drink goes best with my favorite book? Why can’t I just pour myself a shot of vodka and be done with it? That, my friend, is the million-dollar question. And the answer is:
Because books—and booze—are so much more complicated than that. Because a great novel and a great drink both have the power to transport you. Because our memories are stronger when coupled with aromatic experiences. And because a story shared between friends is always better over a pint of beer.
Reading and drinking are both about empathy and connection. Reading allows us to empathize with the characters. Sharing a drink signals that we are in trustworthy company and opens us up to connecting with others. Both involve sharing in another person’s experience or culture. Both allow us to deepen connections, experience new things, and relax and enjoy ourselves.
Every pairing in this book has been carefully researched to ensure that the book and the drink are tied together, at least loosely, by some historical or thematic thread. It doesn’t make much sense to pair a whiskey drink with a Russian novel, does it? Nor does it make sense to drink champagne with a work of Shakespeare—as delightful as it might be to sip bubbly while reading Much Ado About Nothing, champagne literally hadn’t been invented when Shakespeare was writing.
For the sake of convenience, the chapters are organized by genre. Love sci-fi? There’s a whole category for you. Prefer your novels esoteric and intellectually elitist? Skip to contemporary literary fiction. Are you under the age of twenty-one? Don’t worry, I’ve got suggestions for you, too. Hop, skip, or jump to the children’s and young adult pages, where I’ve got nonalcoholic pairings for every book listed—with a few boozy suggestions tacked on, because we all know these books aren’t just for kids.
A note about the pairings
If I had simply gone through every book and paired it with the drink most often mentioned in the pages, half these books would be paired with shots of whiskey, half with some variation on a martini, and half with Tokaj. (Yes, that’s too many halves. See? Impossible.) That would have been a witless way to pair drinks with books and would have made for incomparably dull reading. We’re aiming to capture the spirit of the book, not to replicate the drinks within the pages, which is why these pairings are by no means restricted to the drinks mentioned in the book. In many cases, the pairings are region- and period-specific, by which I mean the drink recommendation would have been available in the book’s time and place. In some cases, though, I made exceptions, opting for pairings based more on taste, theme, and spirit than historical or geographical relevance.
It’s no secret that some of my favorite books have been paired with some of my favorite drinks. A whiskey sour was my gateway into cocktails; it’s been paired with my favorite book, Catch-22. (The drink’s components match so perfectly with the book’s themes. Can you blame me?) When I’m reaching for something nonalcoholic, ginger beer is my go-to, which is convenient because it so perfectly captures the spirit of Lyra Silvertongue, the charismatic heroine of Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass, my favorite book as a child.
Some of the books I’ve chosen are from authors with dozens of internationally successful books—in these cases, I shamelessly chose to write pairings for the books I’ve read, seen the film adaptation, or (in the worst of cases) actually heard of. Don’t judge me. I had to pare down this list somehow. Did I mention chronic reading anxiety yet? This bookstore is really big. Especially if you’re at Powell’s. They don’t call that place a “city of books” for nothing.