The best beer-soaked reads

Forget Dry January with our pick of the ultimate alcohol lit

Strange Weather In Tokyo by Hiromi Kawakami
Strange Weather In Tokyo by Hiromi Kawakami

Just in time to make everyone feel conflicting emotions re: New Year’s Eve decision making, journalist Olivia Laing’s book about six alcoholic American writers, The Trip to Echo Spring, dropped last week. The reviews are mixed (apparently Laing’s coverage is whimsically spotty, probably because of personal biases), but that’s not what’s important here; what’s important here is that alcohol is being recognized as more than fodder for self-deprecating jokes. Whether as the de facto protagonist or critical part of the setting, alcohol plays just as much a role in books as it does in the writing of them, and it’s clear beer-soaked reads are not only Bukowski/Kerouac/Hemingway territory. Forget Dry January — grab a dry martini instead.

NORTHLINE BY WILLY VLAUTIN 

Vegas: set your boozy coming-of-age novels here! Caricature-esque characters — the passive, victimized Allison (the drunk in question) must flee into the desert to escape her brutish, racist boyfriend, Jimmy — offer few surprises, but Allison’s classic drunken antics nevertheless open the door to spectacular scene setting and “Remember that time we…?”s.

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LET THE RIGHT ONE IN BY JOHN AJVIDE LINDQVIST

The gothic Swedish vampire novel that spawned the cult horror film of the same name is a reflection on existentialism and all the dark shit humanity has to offer, notably alcoholism and murder.

DAMASCUS BY JOSHUA MOHR

A cast of degenerates — we would call them ‘quirky’ if it wouldn’t do such a disservice to their issues — populates a San Francisco dive bar and are ring-led by the bartender in a Santa suit. Indie publisher Two Dollar Radio has good taste, and Mohr’s third novel sloshes around an exciting, unexpected range of topics.

Damascus by Joshua Mohr
Damascus by Joshua Mohr

MOSCOW TO THE END OF THE LINE BY VENEDIKT YEROFEYEV

For when you want a splash of postmodern train journey narrative with your cocktail, these vodka-soaked musings hit the spot. ‘One of my acquaintances says that Coriander vodka has an antihuman effect on a person,’ says the narrator, whose solution to that particular problem is: drink more.

Moscow to the End of the Line by Venedikt Yerofeyev
Moscow to the End of the Line by Venedikt Yerofeyev

LIT BY MARY KARR

Karr is known for her first bitter, lyrical childhood memoir, The Liar’s Club, but Lit deals more specifically with booze — while the first was about her father’s drinking, Karr’s own alcoholism serves as the chief theme here. She deals with the dissolution of her marriage, crashing a car, ad infinitum, with humour and grace, but the aftertaste is still a killer.

Lit by Mary Karr
Lit by Mary Karr

THE ALCOHOLIC BY JONATHAN AMES 

We’ve got sex, we’ve got hitting rock bottom, we’ve got illegal high school ragers, we’ve got surreal political cameos, we’ve got evocative, dark illustrations that complement Ames’ clear, funny, semi-autobiographical storytelling strategy.

The Alcoholic by Jonathan Ames
The Alcoholic by Jonathan Ames

STRANGE WEATHER IN TOKYO BY HIROMI KAWAKAMI

For fans of May-December Murakami, this recently translated treat is a quiet build to a sad-ish ending, and the amount its protagonist and her elder love interest imbibe throughout their unconventional courtship will make you feel OK about feeling like a fourth or fifth on that first date.

Strange Weather In Tokyo by Hiromi Kawakami
Strange Weather In Tokyo by Hiromi Kawakami

STRAIGHT WHITE MALE BY JOHN NIVEN

Last year’s Straight White Male is a maximalist romp through Hollywood seen through the eyes of a super-successful Irish asshole. Fans of the obvious straight white male writers who come to Google when you type the words ‘novels about drinking’ will recognize much of the setting, aggressive masturbation and misogyny, but Niven’s satire takes it all to the next level.

Straight White Male by John Niven
Straight White Male by John Niven

BAR STORIES EDITED BY NAN BYRNE

The sense of possibility, the throwing away of inhibition, the spur-of-the-moment sex in disgusting bathrooms—we all have them. This short-story anthology brings together a range of bar stories that encompass the good, the bad and the ugly of going out and paint a solid portrait of lives lived after hours. 

Bar Stories edited by Nan Byrne
Bar Stories edited by Nan Byrne

TROUBLE BY KATE CHRISTENSEN

All of Christensen’s novels set good bar scenes—and usually unashamedly so—but this one is particularly messy because its characters are not usually so. Trouble, tequila-related, ensues. Christensen’s treatment of sexual relationships, illicit and usually obvious psychological responses to life’s trouble, rounds out the boozy afternoons to make this a dynamic, fast read.

Trouble by Kate Christensen
Trouble by Kate Christensen

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