Isn’t it amazing how the creative mind works—the literary brain especially? Isn’t it spectacular how journalists are able to compose column after column, day after day, year after year, on topics of interest to every human alive, from slobbering pre-schoolers with dyslexia to the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Humanities at Oxford University? From Szilárd, the alcoholic Hungarian busboy working midnights at House of Hortobágyi to the Most Holy Pope in Rome? From Jazmin in the Schult single-wide trailer wearing industrial-strength mascara and chain-smoking Newports to Stephen Hawking?
See, I have no idea; that’s why I’m asking.
Personally, after two decades of feature-forging, I struggle to compose a single further word on the subject of wine and find myself in endless life-and-death combats with a writer’s hereditary enemy: The Republic of Deadline.
Usually I dredge up something I wrote in 1996, flip-flop a couple of adjectives and change the title and the vintage date on the tasting notes, secure in the knowledge that my editor has a mild case of Downs and my Twitter ‘followers’ only last a week or two before they give up and subscribe to Wine Advocate.
But occasionally, something cattle-prods my snoring muses—which have been in a medically-induced coma since the mid-eighties—into near functionality.
Today it was my homeboy Finkus Bripp, who posted a YouTube vid about how books are physically assembled, from the paper-making to the typesetting to the spine-binding, adding as his subject line:
‘Books Can Be Just As Complex As Wine’.
Well, there’s a concept—and one that happens to coincide with the year-end release of World Library’s 100 Best Books of All Time and Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines of 2011.
Carpeing the Diem, I immediately set up a full-blown, hundred-flight vertical Book Tasting to test Mr. Bripp’s Complexity Theorem. (A blind tasting would have been ideal, but it proved unworkable, even illogical, since blind people can’t read and when I asked for their input, the American Braille Foundation sent me a curt nasty-gram).
Screw ‘em, yo.
Meanwhile, I brought in a full complement of wine in order to establish a compendium of book and wine pairings, which I believe is the first of its kind in the Free World. My goal was to match the acidity, structure, texture, pace, characterizations and dénouement of a given novel with a wine intended to enhance and compliment—but not overpower—the reading experience.
Book tasting notes follow, along with appropriate wine accompaniments:
To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee, 1960, about $4.99 (paperback): Bittersweet through the introductory pages, the book develops into a tight, yet very concentrated bildungsroman—notes of melodrama mix with delicacy and depth throughout the mid-chapters. Shows wonderful class and a structure completely unlike any other book from the strong ‘60 vintage. Sweet, yet utterly uncloying, the novel has shown an uncanny ability to age since its release; should continue to improve until the Second Coming of Christ. Serve with: Morgan Creek Sweet Blueberry Wine, Harpersville (Alabama), n/v, around $20.
Ulysses, James Joyce, 1922, around $6.99 (paperback, good condition): A non-traditional blend of more than 200,000 words, the book blooms with style and substance. The most massive, concentrated, and (at first read) unstructured of Joyce’s works, Ulysses has attracted controversy and scrutiny from critics but remains a seamless summation of Modernist literature. Shows formidable levels of enigma with multiple layers of conundrum and a bright perfume of puzzlement. Best enjoyed throughout the day on June 16th. Serve with: Dedalus Wines, La Puerta Alta Malbec, Mendoza, 2009, about $13.
The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck, 1939, around $25 (used hardcover): Dusty and slightly astringent with weedpatch notes followed by freshly-picked peach, the book displays massive power and extract from its opening lines to the depressing end. Shows all the characteristics of a classic Salinas Valley novel, finishing with aromas of Rose and breast milk. Serve with: Wrath Vineyards, Pinot Noir, Lucia Highlands, 2009, about $49.
Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand, 1957, around $50 (35th Anniversary edition, hardcover): The final release of this controversial writer’s fiction, the narrative remains intriguing and unapologetically elitist to this day, if rather thick, slow and dry. It is, nonetheless, a full-bodied read, with hints of science fiction that are somewhat difficult to extract from the book’s exaggerated pro-Capitalism postulating. A juicy integration of philosophy and dystopia leads into a solid core of super-ripe Objectivism, but there is a regrettable and total collapse at the finish. Serve with: John Galt Proprietary Red Napa Valley, 2009, around $25.
The Sound And The Fury, William Faulkner, 1929, about $10 (Kindle edition): Praised to the rafters by critics, Faulkner’s rich, dark, stream-of-consciousness masterwork tends to taste flat to Jayden and Jasmine Junior in 11th Grade Lit. Shows a nice balance of Northern industrial and Southern agrarian values; very fleshy and complex through the middle sections, especially Part Two: June 2, 1910; the finish is long (three appendices long), throwing off an enduring residue of despair. Brawny and brilliant, saturated with adjectives and unannounced time-shifts, this modernist epic is difficult to ingest without serious decanting—Cliff’s Notes is recommended. Serve with: Mississippi Mud (1 ½ oz. Kaluah, 1 ½ oz. Southern Comfort, 2 scoops vanilla ice cream; blend until smooth).
Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov, 1955, (unavailable; banned): Pure, but still forward and precocious, the novel appears to be older than its publishing date would suggest. Sensuous tension and heady excitement animate the texture of the book, which retains a core of youthfulness while avoiding the austerity of classical literature. Very intense with tightly laced threads of Romantic irony and tongue-in-cheek eros. Safer if allowed to age more than 12 years. Serve with: Williams & Humbert Amontillado Sherry, 1972