Thursday, June 21, 2012

INTRODUCTION TO BOOK AND BEVERAGE


I. DO WE NEED FICTION, POETRY, BEER, WINE, TEA, COFFEE, CHOCOLATE MILK?

YOU sip a cold beer. Upon swallowing you feel somewhere deep inside you something, some satisfaction that hints at how it may feel to drink iced water when you need it most, when it’s a matter of life or death. You peer into a book. You read the English (or whatever language) you’ve learned, and, as you read, a story or poem begins slowly to come together like a Polaroid developing, and, as you read this story or poem, you participate in a highly evolved form of our initial, survivalist need to communicate (“don’t eat that”, “let’s go kill that”, “help!”).

When you read a good book and when you drink a good drink you’re sucked into the following strange, human project: the transformation of what’s needed to survive into what will help us feel more alive before we’re dead. You don’t need that beer in order to survive (if you do, you have a disease) and you don’t need that book/poem in order to survive (again, if you do, you have a disease), but those survivalist seeds were planted in fertile, human soil. Our needs are now wants, desires—now we read just because, and we drink just because…just because we can, because these things are fun, pleasant, life-giving but not death-preventative,  possibly silly, emotionally affirming and rich, capable of making bonds between people tight, capable of destroying those bonds…in other words, we read and drink because we’d rather feel alive than dead.

                                                  II. SAY CHEESE: THE HISTORY OF THIS BLOG

          
NOT long ago, I received a company-wide email announcing a cheese tasting that was to take place during lunchtime at my office. I read the email and followed the provided link to the cheese vendor's website where I found something not necessarily surprising, but, nonetheless, fascinating: a page devoted to pairing beverages (wine and beer) with appropriate cheeses. I've heard of wine and cheese parties; I'm aware that certain foods taste better with certain types of wine. But until I read that website I had not seen these beverage/food combinations in any kind of formal, instructive venue—never had I glimpsed into the source, so to speak, of the matters of etiquette whose origins were as mysterious to me as certain jokes. Who was the first person to joke about people walking into a bar?

Moving on. I know nothing about the science of these pairings, but I love the concept of pairing food and drink for reasons that have nothing to do with brute, Gradgrindian utility. Beverage and food pairings like the ones I found on that website do not abide by the logic of the hot dog eating contestant who requires a bucket of water in order to maximize his bun intake. These pairings are aesthetic, meant to give pleasure and to help the drinker/eater to explore what it means to have tastebuds.

After about a half-hour spent reading the cheese and beverage pages, I felt inspired by these cheese/beverage scientists. What could I do to be more like these people, these gastronomists whose expertise is measured only by the level of pleasure and tastebud joy the convinced reader experiences while taking time to have a cheese/beverage? Consider their expertise: They know cheese, they know drink, and they know enough about each to suggest how best to combine them into a third thing (cheese/beverage) that takes advantage of the attributes of both and puts these attributes in conversation with each other using the consumer's tastebuds as little neural microphones. It's impressive.

III. I WISH I COULD DO THAT!



BUT to enter that world of beverage and cheese and taste would require me to work and study and practice and cultivate skills which are, however admirable, not really relevant to my priorities and goals.

So rather than entering a new field in order to master it, I've decided to invent a new field in order to render mastery irrelevant. And therefore: Book/Beverage. I will pair books with a beverage. I will not limit myself to alcohol. This isn’t a celebration of the writer-as-alcoholic. This is a celebration of taste (both good and bad taste) and it's an attempt to see whether or not the beverage-receptive tastebuds on my tongue have distant relatives somewhere in the part of my mind where reading takes place. Above all, I'll make it my goal to convince you that it might be a good idea to take some time out of your day to relax with a good book and a good beverage—have yourself a Book/Beverage.

IV. WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN YOU FOLLOW BOOK AND BEVERAGE

1. One full Book and Beverage post every four weeks. A Book and Beverage post will be a reading/review of a book, and the review will take as its starting point the assignation of an appropriate Beverage.

2. In the three-week interim, occasional very brief posts about beverages and books. Events such as readings (most of them in New York) or tastings (New York again) will be posted; new beverages and new books will be occasionally mentioned.

3. My critical vocabulary for beverages is wholly unprofessional but I hope to improve. My critical vocabulary for books is a little better than my beverage critical vocab, but I hope to improve in that realm, too.

4. Occasional interviews featuring a Beverage and a Book suggestion from the interviewee—interviewees still TBD.

Check back Monday for the first Book and Beverage post. I’ll have one done by then.

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