Sarah Hepola’s memoir Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget is probably the best memoir I read in 2016. It’s not only exceptionally well-written, it’s brutally self-honest and open in a way that is sometimes unflattering but never sinks to the kind of misery-porn wallowing that makes addiction memoirs such a mixed bag. The self-reflexion and self-condemnation are firmly rooted in reality and don’t seek any end other than the narrative itself.
It’s a long-reaching memoir, a directed autobiography. Hepola’s relationship with alcohol is both the narrative focus and the frame of this story, but this doesn’t feel like much of an external imposition on account of the major role that drinking (and selectively, temporarily not drinking) plays throughout her entire life. The voice is conversational and confessional, refraining from any linguistic backflipping, but this restraint serves to emphasize the thoughtful and deliberate simplicity of Hepola’s communication, her skill displayed well at low wattage. It’s easy and enjoyable to read, in spite of the sometimes difficult subject matter.
A well-framed and well-executed memoir is almost always worth reading. There’s certainly no shortage of books detailing some aspect of somebody’s lived experience, but they are far too often either well-written fluff that teeters toward self importance or a fascinating story that’s told adequately at best. It’s nice to not have to settle. This book is up there with Wolff and the like.
Randy Mosher’s book Tasting Beer is a fantastic primer on good beer, craft and historical, and everything that goes into or tangentially relates to good beer. He covers everything in great detail, touching on the history of various styles, regional brewing, and the craft beer explosion in the US over the last thirty years, he goes into judging and tasting parameters, proper glassware, and food pairing. All of this information is presented exhaustively, but never in such a dreary way as to fatigue an enthusiast.
But that’s the caveat. If you aren’t a beer enthusiast, this book isn’t for you. It’s 256 pages (and it’s a large-format book) of details. These details are extremely exciting if you’re the kind of person who wants to tour Belgium with your taste buds, but will drag seriously for anybody who just likes a decent IPA or something, nothing special.
Like most specialty books, Tasting Beer is written with a specific audience in mind. I love craft beer and homebrewing, and I really enjoyed the read. Mosher is a great designer and an obsessive researcher -both great qualities for writers of this kind of informational non-fiction. And this is the kind of book I love to read alongside heavier things -it was a welcome break from Next Door Lived a Girl and Heart of Darkness. If this sort of thing is your bag and you’re either a homebrewer or interested in the idea, check out his excellent book Radical Brewing for more in that vein.
Recommendation: I think you’ve got this figured out by now -buy it if you’re a beer geek, OK? Also, it’s only two bucks for the Kindle version at pres time, so…
“Proof: The Science of Booze” is a wonderfully fun read about alcohol in it’s every context. Wired writer/editor and Übergeek journalist Adam Rogers has a contagious passion for the study of booze in whatever incarnation that study might manifest. He examines the history, the industry and marketing, and the science, all with the same alert enthusiasm. The entire book reads like one of the better articles one might expect to find in a publication like Wired, with a little less of the ephemeral chasing of the advertising dollar that seems to be endemic in magazine writing these days. It’s not high literature and there’s nothing to cheer on in the prose, but everything is solid and nothing is aesthetically offensive enough to break you out of the read.
These kind of books are tough to talk about. There’s nothing artistically redeeming here, nothing on a level of creative power that edifies the reader through its expression, which is what I generally turn to literature for, but it’s damn interesting and I learned a lot from it, which is absolutely one of the things I read books for. I guess that’s the metric. Not everything has to be Tinkers, for Chrissakes.
Recommendation: Read if you are intrigued by the idea of a good book on the topic. Skip it if that doesn’t sound like your glass of scotch.