I had the review of Drinking Diaries: Women Serve Their Stories Straight Up written for weeks. I was adding things–material from an interview with the editors, personal anecdotes, and some embarrassingly accurate knowledge of the Alcoholics Anonymous program.
And then the unfathomable bombings in Boston happened as I was about to go live with this post. I saw myself in almost all the essays in the collection; I wanted to include my reaction to the news. This was, appropriately, to go out for a drink with my dearest writer friends; we found a quiet bar and watched the President address the nation. Later, at home, husband asleep on the sofa, I poured a glass of wine. Ice cubes melting, I watched coverage unfold via Facebook and Twitter feeds.
Drinking Diaries is about more than dealing with the stress, hardships, and horror of life with alcohol. But it is certainly about that. Its editors, the fabulous Leah Odze Epstein and Caren Osten Gerszberg are both talented writers who bring their own different, intimate relationships with drinking. (You can read those in the book!) They were generous to spend time speaking with me as well.
Their goal–which began with the Drinking Diaries blog–has been to “take women’s [drinking] stories out of the closet.”
The stories go beyond, expectedly, deeply, what we share among ourselves on playgrounds, at the office, at dinner parties, even at the bar–some are uncomfortable; all are heart baring. Rarely does the need for preservation of self disrupt a story–as it will in casual conversation. The stories come with vulnerability and that ugly sort of honesty we’ve felt perhaps only a few times in life. Susan Henderson’s “Forever Thirteen” is short and far from sweet. Its brave details are as sharp as adolescence itself.
Caren and Leah told me it was not difficult getting women to put their stories on paper, and of their own grateful astonishment at the wonderful writers that came together.
The sublime Joyce Maynard has written an essay called “Under the Influence,” that, while stunning, is lowery at every turn:
Now here I was, by the side of another dark New Hampshire road with no similar appearance of leniency awaiting me. Now the police officer was opening the car door for me, since my hands were locked together. Now we were heading to the police station in the town where I’d raised my children, back when they and I were young.
I have other personal favorites among these. As a writer, a drinker, and steadfast fan of honest storytelling, it is hard to choose–but Asra Q. Nomani’s essay “The Mother of All Sins” reads like a map, a history book, a war documentary, and a world’s religions lesson. And she still tells her story of alcohol. She was good friends with murdered Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl and his wife:
As the days passed, I turned once to a swig of Jack Daniel’s from a hotel fridge mini-bottle; I needed to numb myself as we searched for my buddy. In the fourth week of our search the police got a break that we hoped would lead us to Danny. One of the Pakistani locals ordered a bottle of one of Danny’s favorite liquors so it would be ready for his return.
It is difficult to concentrate beyond this storyline; yet Nomani’s writing both educates and satisfies.
Rita Williams’ essay “The Root Cellar,” brings us to a brutal place; and it is unfailingly gorgeous.
I am forever in love, however, with “My Father, My Beer Buddy,” by Ann Hood. Its details preserve perfectly the dynamics of memory itself–it is both ideal and encouraged. Ms. Hood’s recounting of her relationship with her father, made impenetrable with her father’s affinity for drinking and for his little girl: “For the rest of our lives together, my father knew how I felt and scooped me up into his warm embrace. For all my life with him, beer was on the sidelines…”
Unlike many family drinking stories, this is not one of heartbreak. The author’s closeness with her father and the pains with which she recounts details about him reach back through the years.
During that period, when my father ate lunch at fancy restaurants in Boston, he had a flirtation with martinis. One weekend when I was about twelve, he spent an afternoon teaching me how to make a good one. He was a man who liked his juice in juice glasses, his ties hung on a tie rack, hand towels at the bathroom sink. Therefore, martinis required a silver bar set–jigger, shaker, long stirring spoon, and strainer…
I asked my husband to read this essay about a father and daughter spending time together over many years, in many restaurants, over many drinks. We have three children, and we wonder always what our children will remember about us. What details, what days will stay with them. Ms. Hood’s design for imprinting memories–clinking of glasses, warm beers in Irish pubs, tales of foods from foreign lands–is romantic and enviable.
Every day since my father died, on April 14, 1997, I’ve missed him. He taught me how to tell a good story. He gave me a love of travel and the bigger world. He showed me what it felt like to be loved, truly loved. And he taught me to drink beer. ‘Always get the good stuff,’ he told me.”
I would hope that my child remember I taught her how to tell a story. Any parent would.
Thank you Holly Fink at Culture Mom Media for this opportunity and for introducing me to Leah and Caren (who I hope don’t mind my calling them by their first names; they are just so cool). I was given a copy of this book for review purposes. All opinions are my own.
Wow, fantastic review. I’m always in the market to read a book that comes with a good recommendation. Thank you for sharing this. I’ll add it to my must read list.