What Are You Drinking With That Book?
'Tis the season to lift a glass and crack a tome. These 100-proof gift ideas from Daniel Reid are guaranteed to pack a one-two punch
Stephen Longstreet watercolor from the Yale Archives, titled "A Party for F. Scott Fitzgerald."
Certain drinks are paired rather magnificently with food. Think Bordeaux with blood rare beef or a crisp New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc with oysters on the half shell. How about ice cold vodka with smoked salmon and pickles? It's getting close to Christmas, so here are some great ideas for the perfect gift—a thrilling piece of literature paired with a tantalizing libation (wrap as you please). Testing before giving is greatly encouraged! Cheers! Salute! Santé! Sláinte! Skål!
"The Girl With/Who" novels, Steig Larsson
Although there's not much drinking in these books (more shopping at IKEA and running away from very nasty people), the young heroine, Lisbeth, might stop for a few moments in between hacking computer networks and tattooing obscene gestures across a sexual predator's chest and have a couple of drinks. The books are very hard to put down, so the reader needs to stay awake until the bloodshot hours of the morning. For this selection (and package the whole series together because, like last-call shooters, once you start, you can't stop) go with a six pack of Red Bull or any high-powered energy drink and Vodka—ice cold. Put it in the freezer before you hand it out as a gift. And let's go with the Swedish spirit of choice: Absolut. Pick your flavor perhaps pepper (spray) or lemon.
Dubliners, James Joyce
One of the best short story collections ever. Dublin comes alive, good and bad. You can smell the Christmas Goose in "The Dead" and the musty old room in "The Sisters." The drink? So many great Irish beers to choose from! Throw a copy of the book in with a six pack of Guinness, Kilkenny or Caffery's, but be careful. Guinness is a Protestant beer and might offend some Catholics (although this not a concern for Joyce). Also try Smithwick's or Harp. (And if you want a more recent novel, Anne Enright's The Gathering would pair very nicely as well.) And consider a nice shot of Irish Whisky like Bushmills 10 Year Old Single Malt or some Michael Collins to top off a perfect creamy Irish Ale.
The Sea, The Sea, Iris Murdoch
Lovely story about a man who tries to isolate himself on the English coast but gets ravaged by guests from his past. You can taste the sea and feel the wine. In the book, Charles loves his Spanish Rioja. Marques de Rioja is a great bargain or Bodegas LAN Rioja Crianza or Don Tempranillo (although not a Riojas, a very nice Spanish wine). Charles also has a few episodes with whisky, but since the novel was written in the seventies, well before the single malt craze, the poor bastard probably had to drink Johnny Walker Red Label or J & B. You, however, don't. See Rebus below.
Any "Rebus" novel (Black and Blue, The Hanging Garden, or Exit Music are very good choices), Ian Rankin
The great Scottish police constable, Rebus, loves his drink. Think of those dark, rainy Scottish nights, ducking into the the local pub for a dark, creamy pint and a whisky just to warm the dampness from your bones. The constant inclement weather in the novels makes winter the perfect season to read Rebus because it's also Scotch season. And unlike poor Charles, Rebus drinks the good stuff: single malt scotch. The choices are endless, but try The Balvenie DoubleWood 12 Year or Signature. They are great bargains. Also, any Macallan is wonderfully soothing, although the higher the age, the higher the price. If you want a bolder scotch, try Lagavulin 16 or Talisker 10.
Disgrace; The Life and Times of Michael K, J.M. Coetzee
These two novels take place in the great wine-producing regions of South Africa—Paarl, Worcester, and Stellenbosch—but during apartheid. Both novels give you a sense of what the Cape Town area was like before wine. Try the Stellenbosch Cabernet or Stark-Condé Syrah or a Ken Forrester Cape Breeze Chenin Blanc. Beach House, a Sauvignon/Semillion blend, is a great deal for under fifteen bucks. Or go bubbly with a Graham Beck Brut.
The Sea, John Banville
Another Irish novel, so keep up with the pints, but Max Morden loves his brandy so much that he passes out on the beach and nearly drowns. Careful. A Martell or Hennessy Cognac would go pleasantly with the novel.
On the Road, Jack Kerouac
The cheapest California red you can find. The key here is quantity, not quality, so a nice box of wine would work well. If you don't have a headache the next day, you're not getting a full blast of this classic American novel. However, the California wine industry has improved enormously since the days of Jack, so no use in getting an ugly headache from drinking cheap wine. A nice Zinfindel like Ravenswood or a Rodney Strong Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, Blackstone Syrah from Sonoma County, or Hahn Estates Cabernet Sauvignon, Central Coast would go great with the novel, but it must be red. The beat boys sipping a glass of Chard...don't think so.
Also worth a shot...
Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
Vodka, of course. Should be served with a large portion of cold fish. Try a Grey Goose or Iceberg, a wonderful spirit from Canada.
Fall on Your Knees, Anne Marie MacDonald
Moonshine. Her father was a bootlegger, so try some good Rum like One Barrel (Belize, dark rum) or Mount Gay Special Reserve (Barbados, white rum).
What are your favorite booze and book pairings? Feel free to comment below.