Mar 232015
 

Liquorature #068 – “Deliverance” (James Dickey)deliverance

Date:  January 23rd, 2015

Host:  Jay

Whisky:  Roughstock Montana Whiskey Black Label Single Malt, Cadenhead Linkwood-Glenlivet 26 y.o., Signatory Laphroaig 17 y.o. Cask #8519

 

Even before we got together for this gathering members were referring to it as a BYOL event.  “Bring Your Own Log”.  If you’ve seen the film adaptation you’re probably experiencing an involuntary sphincter clenching imagining Ned Beatty’s character getting bent over a fallen tree and…well…

I was hoping that if I didn’t bring my log I could avoid joining in on the ‘festivities’, if you will, and am happy to report I left with my dignity (and other things) completely intact.  I did bow out a little earlier than some though, so won’t speak for the others.  (Anyone hear them banjos?)

In all honesty, before Jay announced this as his selection I’m not even sure more than one or two of the crew knew that this was a book.  The film has become such a touchstone of American culture that the original source material seems almost an afterthought.  While the book does show up in the Modern Library Top 100 novels list, it’s certainly no mainstay of contemporary Literature.  Even finding a copy was difficult for some.

If you’re anything like me, cynicism steps forth here and asks how much merit there can be a book like this that seems so much a periphery chunk of writing in comparison to the film adaptation.  Is the novel merely the skeleton of a good tale, poorly written, but easily co-opted for other medium?  Is the film so good that it monolithically overshadows the merits of bound page?  These were questions I had percolating as I walked into this one, before even turning a page.

I’m happy to report that any concerns over lack of literary merit were completely unfounded.  Put simply: this is a great book.  Solidly written, evocative and engaging, rich in tone and timbre and with a momentum that continues to ramp up as the story unfolds.  It starts off a little slowly – in a very late ’60s or early ’70s ‘disillusioned with the worldhood of the world’ kinda vibe – before rolling out into the lush green wilds of the deep South.  Hillbilly style.

Jay hunted for the closest possible approximation of moonshine he could find, and while he did come up with a jug of high test juice from the US (actually a classy bottle; no mason jar here), it feel flat in one respect.  Moonshine is supposed to be rotgut poison nasty.  This stuff was incredibly well made whiskey from Montana’s Roughstock Distillery.  The Black Label Single Malt Cask Strength comes highly recommended from this crew.  Top that off with a beautifully pungent 17 year old indie Laphroaig and a sweet soft 26 year old Linkwood (also indie) and we had a night of drinks to remember.  Good selections, Jay.

This was another pick that received pretty much universal acclaim from the Liquorature guys.  A very phallicentric tale, to be sure, but with some broader appeal too.

Randoms:  “a civilized cornholing” … “that’s what Bobby said” … the Bobby suit.

Until next…

 

- Curt

Mar 232015
 

Liquorature #067 – “A Christmas Carol” (Charles Dickens)a-christmas-carol

Date:  December 19th, 2014

Host:  Collective (at Curt’s place)

Whiskies:  Lots

 

There’s a reason the adjective ‘Dickensian’ has entered the English lexicon.  The man had a style and resonance all his own.  He was an unparalleled master in both atmospheric composition and cheeky turn of phrase.  His characters were unforgettable.  His stories: rich beyond measure.  Taking six years of Liquorature meetings to finally read Dickens seems almost unforgivable in hindsight.

We mixed things up a little bit with this meeting.  In the early years of Liquorature – in the days when many of our members’ spouses were running a parallel ladies’ book club – we used the December gathering as an opportunity to bring our better halves together and have a shared night of animated book chat.  Each sex bringing their best book from the year and trying to outdo the other side.  A couple years (and a spoonful of drama) later we let that concept fall by the wayside.  We went a calendar or two with no special December events, but when it was time to reinvigorate this monster I decided to being a little tradition and holiday spirit to a beautiful time of year.  Each December we will table a holiday-themed book for discussion.  This won’t be a typical club night in some ways, but in others it will fall perfectly in line.

The suggestion was made by a couple of members early on to not have a host, per se, but instead to allow everyone to let their personalities shine a little by contributing something to the event.  I opened the doors to my place on a snowy evening less than a week before Christmas day and each member of the Collective arrived with food and drink in hand.  Something like a potluck / heels party.  We ate…we drank (probably a little too much)…and we made another truly memorable night for the book crew.  It definitely felt like a Christmas party, which was exactly the intent.

And as to the reception to the book?  What really need be said here?  This is one of the most iconic stories of all time.  Even those that had never read it knew it inside and out from past stage adaptations, the Muppet version, Mickey’s Christmas Carol, Scrooged, etc.  The story is beautiful and timeless.  The message still resonates today, and though we’re well past this Victorian age, Dickens’s visuals loom large and haunting.  And the guys let it be known that they all felt the same.  An overwhelming appreciation for this one.

Next year’s Christmas tale may again take us into the macabre.  I’ve got a l’il something in mind already.  A tale that is somewhat at the root of the formation of Liquorature.  More to come.

Until next…

 

- Curt

Jan 262015
 

Liquorature #066 – “The Old Man And The Sea” (Ernest Hemingway)the-old-man-and-the-sea

Date:  November 21st, 2014

Host:  Steve

Whisky:  Glenmorangie Companta, Black Bull 12, Balvenie 14 Caribbean Cask

 

Steve’s turn to take us on a bit of a journey.  This time way out beyond where the land still exerts pull.  We found ourselves rocked on the waves with old Santiago as he puts his will up against that of the majestic marlin.  The isolation and calm test of man against nature (and himself) set a tone here that hints at the sort of deep Americana we’re bound to encounter in an upcoming tale or two for the Liquorature few.

This was Steve’s first run at hosting, meaning his first go at all the stress that goes into good book, drink and food selection.  That’s not to belittle the importance of being prepared to steer a solid conversation on topical subject matter related to the book at play.  As it turns out, this one was a knockout evening.  Steve had had a long, long while to prepare for this one.  He initially announced this selection before the Liquorature Dark Ages.  When all collapsed, it seemed as though the club would go to its grave without tackling one of the literary greats of our age.  Steve was more disappointed than you can imagine.  When we pulled the Lazarus act, it was a no brainer that this would be his selection.  Et voila!  Marlin was back on the menu.

I’ve made mention before of not knowing how we’d made it so far into our journey without tackling Hemingway.  I know a few of us are Hemingway junkies, while several others have mentioned mulling over selecting one of his works.  Until now, however, this was nothing more than lip service.

You always wonder with a name as iconic as Hemingway’s whether or not people will be overly critical going into it and come out the other side going “hmmmm…really?  Is that it?”  I’m happy to say that Hemingway did not disappoint in the least.  I’m pretty certain there was universal acclaim for this one.  The simple tale and Hemingway’s signature spartan prose made this one a tale of pure and austere classic beauty for all.  Symbolic and parabolic at once.  The criticisms – which I no longer recall – were so slight as to be negligible.  A couple of the fellas even mentioned recommending it on to their significant others.  Impressive, for a very phallocentric author, often accused of misogyny.  Sometimes a story is simply transcendent.

“The Old Man And The Sea” is a must read.  Honestly.  There is more packed into these 100 or so pages than in most epics you’re liable to plow through.  Hemingway really was a master.

And playing to thematics – as we’re wont to do with this quirky crew – Steve kicked things off with a Black Bull blended whisky (remember: Hemingway was a bullfighting junkie).  From there we hit a Balvenie Caribbean Cask (to bring a little tropical influence to a topical tale), then on into the new Glenmorangie Companta.  This latter I can no longer recall the rationale for selection, but it was a fun, tasty one to sweeten things up.  Big fruits and infinite gooey dessert-ness.  We snacked the night away and Hemingway’d the bottles as best we could.  Discussion was lively…service was paid.

Great night all in all.

- Curt

Jan 022015
 

“The Abominable” (Dan Simmons)the-abominable-dan-simmons-663x1024

Not.  What.  You’d.  Think.

Let’s start there.  I am only on page 125 of 663 and, though I don’t really know where we’re going from here, I can unequivocally state that I am both beyond impressed and still not being chased by a yeti.  All joking aside, I have no idea how the title will play into this one, but there is no hint so far of anything from the realms of cryptozoology.  But, man…what a tale already.  Austerely written and hearkening back to a time and place nearly 100 years behind us, you need to go into this one expecting something other than an all out footrace from the get go.  There is a slow build and development, but if you’re anything like me you’ll find it well worth the effort.

Before I go on, let me share the teaser from the publisher:  “June 1924. On the brutal North East Ridge of Mount Everest, famous adventurers George Mallory and Andrew Irvine vanish into the snow-whipped night.

Daredevil explorer Richard Deacon devises a plan to follow in the men’s footsteps, accompanied only by two friends. Off piste and with no support team, the three men strike for Everest’s peak and the most vicious climate on earth.

As the winds rise and the temperature and oxygen levels drop, Deacon and his companions hear howls in the distance. Some dark creature is tracking them up the mountain, sending them scrabbling blindly into Everest’s dangerous heights to escape it.

Soon they will discover what happened to Mallory’s crew – but can they escape the same hideous fate?

A gripping thriller by a master of the genre, The Abominable blends historical fact with spine-tingling drama – this is one of the most chilling and unforgettable novels you will ever read.

Now…I am an absolute Everest junkie.  Actually, anything to do with high altitude mountaineering.  Combine that with a tight plotline and a bedrock rooted in actual history (albeit speculatively so), and I’m hooked.  Utterly hooked.

Can’t wait to see where this one takes me, but I’m galloping through pages at a righteous pace.  More to come.

 

– Curt

Jan 022015
 

Liquorature #065 – “The Stars My Destination”the stars my destination

 

Date:  October 24th, 2014

Host: Scott

Whisky: Mortlach Rare Old, Balblair 1989, Nikka Taketsuru 21 y.o.

 

Back to back forays into the realms of deep space. Sci-fi is starting to hold a little more clout with a few of us old codgers in the club who ignorantly initially mistook it for prepubescent nerd porn and summarily dismissed most of the genre out of hand. Thankfully a few of the literati in Liquorature have seen fit to force their agenda down our throats with their selections and catapult us into the stars (and the future).

Scott announced his selection just as I did, neither of aware that the other was going deep space on the crew.  So be it.  Two months in a row of escaping the third stone from the sun.  God knows with the life most of us lead we can use the ultimate escapism.  You may recall last month’s ‘Star Maker’ was about as much fun as an anesthetic-free vasectomy.  It delivered in terms of message but left us lurching to the finish line due to its incredibly dry pacing and method of delivery.  I think a few of us were somewhat reticent to pick up another book with ‘star’ in the title so soon after.

Happy to say ‘The Stars My Destination’ started off fast and immediately picked up speed.  This pseudo anarchistic dystopian romp pretty much had all of us at ‘hello’.  I think the breakneck pace and instantly imaginable characters had something to do with that, but let’s not sell short the fact that the story itself was immensely engaging and, like much good science fiction, the speculative nature and forward thinking led us all to pause for a moment and try to take ourselves back to 1957, the time of writing.

As is often the case with these sorts of tales, imaginative discussion is often lubed with a few drams of something strong and neat.  Scott picked out a few new ones for us (new to club members, that is).  Highlight for this guy had to be the Nikka Taketsuru 21, with a nose to die for.  The Balblair wasn’t far behind.  We were on relatively good behaviour, but have happily happened Ginger work through these bottles in the days since this gathering.

Great choices for this month, Buddha; drinks and book. Look forward to seeing where you take us next time.

…Having said all of that, I can’t but help feel relieved to place my feet back on terra firma (or at least adrift upon a fishing boat) with next month’s selection of “The Old Man And The Sea”.

The randoms: Blind tasting … “jaunt savant” … “need a nipple for that?” … “jaunt with Jiz” …

Until next…

 

- Curt

Nov 142014
 

“Freak Show” – Horror Writers Of America (Edited by F. Paul Wilson)5666

 

I have a serious inclination towards the darker side of things when it comes to my appreciation of the arts.  Not exclusively limiting myself to the nocturnal, of course, but a morbid curiousity and a bent to the less mainstream nevertheless.  Perhaps it’s simply because it is an avenue of existence that most people prefer to avoid; crossing the street to walk in sunshine, rather than skulking in the shadows of alleyways and gutters.  Who knows?  And let’s not dwell too long or deeply.  “If you stare long enough into the abyss, the abyss stares back at you”…or something like that.

For those with similar aesthetic leanings, I thought I’d share a bit of ‘heads up’ on a long forgotten gem of a book.  “Freak Show” is an interesting story.  It is a story of many stories, in fact.  Under the guidance, watchful eye and editorial nudgings of author F. Paul Wilson, a ragtag band of authors were brought together under the collective pseudonym of the ‘Horror Writers Of America’.  Each was allotted a chapter in which to breathe life into a character – their own particular ‘freak’ – and contribute their unique brand of evil to the overall narrative.  Wilson, himself, bookends the tale and interjects little chapterlings along the way to ensure continuity and that there is an actual story being played out, and not simply a series of disturbing vignettes.  The end result is…well…let’s just say it will resonate.  This is not a book to be easily relegated to the dusty recesses of the mind and forgotten.

This is not to suggest a flawless piece of literature, however.  Quite the contrary, in fact.  The central plot ‘device’ (a delicious turn of phrase, as you’ll see if you do indeed manage to track down and read this book) is more than a little thin, and the occasional change-up in first- to third-person narrative really throws the overall ‘voice’ off.  And, at the end of the day, some of these authors are simply better writers than others.

Occasionally, though, magic happens in these pages and we end up with something that is sooooo much more than simply the sum of its parts.  From the near-gothic sequence involving a Joseph Merrick-like character shuffling his way through an ‘almost dreamworld’ to the threatening and murky deep southern swamps…from the surreal darkness of a vampire-esque seer to the most depraved sexual collectings imaginable…from the blues-drenched edge of a campfire jam between a child and a child killer to the horrendous secrets of a snakelike schizophrenic…this is a nightmare tale of divine proportion.  And a scavenger hunt to end all scavenger hunts.

This novel/short story collection (think Bradbury’s “The Illustrated Man” with a slightly more substantial plotline) is a macabre little tale with just the right blend of esoteric strangeness, B grade sexuality, atmospheric density and a broad range of taboo horror to add a little fear no matter what your literary palate and personal phobias.  So…turn the light down low, pour a big glass of Ardbeg and settle in for a long trip with ‘The Peabody-Ozymandias Traveling Circus & Oddity Emporium’ around an America from days gone by.  One where mud shows and carnival tents were still a relevant piece of Americana.  And where the Freak Show still beckoned those with darker inclinations.

This is a tough book to find, and even tougher to get your hands on affordably and in decent condition.  If you can track one down, though, I highly recommend doing so for those who like their horror more in the vein of the old school ’80s and early ’90s vibe.  Simply unforgettable.

 

- Curt

Oct 212014
 

Liquorature Selection #066the-old-man-and-the-sea
21-Nov-2014

Five years of doing this and only now getting ’round to covering Hemingway.  Seems unconscionably wrong somehow.  Hemingway was sort of a touchstone in my formative years (along with Steinbeck, Allende, Rand, Kerouac, Vonnnegut, Robbins, etc), so it feels like a bit of a homecoming, in a sense, to be picking this one up again.  Those that are familiar with Hemingway will know that this is one of his shortest novels (a novella really), but one which carries an awful lot of weight. Hemingway was a master of Spartan prose. An author who managed to convey more through what he didn’t say than what ended up on paper. A good mate of mine would immediately draw an analogy to negative space right about now.

Either way…it’s about damn time we came to Hemingway. And in a further nod to the beauty and unavoidable influence of Americana, there looks to be a few of Hemingway’s contemporaries covered in coming days as well. Should be a good few months ahead.

This selection was by one of our newest members.  His first time picking a book for the Collective. Great choice for a first go ’round. 

 

- Curt

 Posted by at 8:58 am
Oct 062014
 

Liquorature #064 – “Star Maker” (Olaf Stapledon)Star Maker

Date:  September 26th, 2014

Host:  Curt

Whisky:  Glenlivet Nadurra (Batch 0712U), Aberlour a’bunadh (Batch 47), Bowmore Laimrig 15 y.o. (Batch 3), Laphroaig Cairdeas 2014, Ardbeg Uigeadail

 

Damn, it feels good to be back in the saddle again. Laying Liquorature to rest was like putting down a much loved dog. Unfortunately, it had to be done. The details of what transpired leading up to both the demise and subsequent Lazarus act of the club are sort of an ‘internal-to-club-members-only’ type of discussion, but suffice it to say that we are better off for it.  From the ashes, the phoenix, and all that.  This new incarnation of the club is a little different in make-up and, already, approach.  I can only say I’m happy and relieved to have things back to what we’d initially aimed for.

Part of the mandate of the new Liquorature is to be open to the idea of guest sit-ins.  These occasional (but hopefully frequent) visitors are still subject to all of the Liquorature protocols, of course (i.e. reading the book, paying in dues, coming prepared to talk, drinking from the skull, etc).  For “Star Maker” I had asked a mate of mine, Dan, from one of my other ventures (The Dram Initiative Whisky Club) to join us.  He was kind enough to oblige.  Thanks, Dan!

While some things have changed, others have been held to tradition.  These nights generally start with a wee monologue by the host, who is responsible for sharing some insight as to the drams on hand, the rationale for book selection and a few thoughts to lead in the conversation.  Without spilling club secrets, that’s exactly what happened on this eve.

And the overall reception to the book? Hmmm…lukewarm, I guess. The ideas within its pages were beyond scale and light years ahead of their time, but the literary merits were something contentious, to say the least. Put simply, this was an utterly exhausting read. The irony is that C.S. Lewis, a contemporary of Stapledon, at one point referred to him as a ‘corking good writer’. Having said that, if you’ve ever read Lewis’s “Mere Christianity” (and recognized it for the absolute load of monkey shit that it is), you’ll realize that that isn’t much of a compliment after all. There were a few early comparisons made by members to Edward Bellamy’s “Looking Backward” too, but those parallels were more in relation to the dry nature of the writing style and not to the content itself. I should also take a moment to note that “Looking Backward” was at least as much monkey shit as “Mere Christianity”.

“Star Maker” is a book lacking in any sort of true character voice or development.  It is paper-thin in terms of actual ‘plot’.  And it is utterly utilitarian, I’d argue, when it comes to analysis of prose and poetics. Somehow though, for all of these apparent ‘failings’, it still ‘works’. There was a slow build leading to a decent climax wherein the narrator does indeed encounter the titular ‘star maker’.  This scene, and many others, were quite well-received, but it seemded to be the creativity of alien worlds and hitoric parralels that incited the most discussion.  In the end, several of us came away with a fairly positive spin we could associate with this one.

A book as metaphysically massive and all encompassing as ‘Star Maker’ deserves a range of whiskies just as big, no? A series of cask strength monoliths towered over the event and served as social lubricant. We revisited some old favorites, albeit in more contemporary iterations, and test drove a rather sexy Laphroaig Cairdeas. ‘Cairdeas’ is Gaelic for ‘friendship’, so what better audience and occasion to open such a bottle than with the Liquorature brethren? And finally, in a loose tie to the thematic elements of the novel, it just made sense to finish the ‘tasting’ side of things with a dram of the teeth shatteringly explosive Ardbeg Supernova. We walked through these malts in the order listed in the header above, but after that, as with all Liquorature gatherings, it was just sort of free-for-all run on the open bottles (and whatever else was around).

In other chat…sigh…there were far too many Roddenbury references and mentions of Star Trek blech.  Those that know me, know that I detest Star Trek like nothing else.  I’ve given the guys a two month pass however, seeing as how we’re firmy entrenched in sci-fi Trekkie country with our first two selections since returning from hiatus. After this grace period ends, however, punishment by way of forced consumption of Johnnie Walker Red will be levied on any members who make reference to Star Trek, professional wrestling or Mandingo’s…ummm…gift. Said bottle of JW Red will travel with me from meeting to meeting starting in November.

Sincere thanks to all members in attendance for making this another one to remember, and again to Dan for coming out.  I look forward to many more years of making memories with all.

Until next…

 

- Curt

Oct 062014
 

Liquorature Selection #065the stars my destination
24-Oct-2014

Sticking with the sci-fi / speculative fiction type stuff, Scott’s choice follows hard on the heels of last month’s “Star Maker”.  That one had us reeling from the weightiness of both its subject matter and heavy-handed textbook-styled narrative.  This one – though I’m only 20 or so pages in – is a breeze of a read in comparison.  Ease though, is not necessarily what we’re looking for here.  Ultimately, it’s about the story and what we can get out of it.

This book hints at themes that will likely have us hearkening back to the club’s early days of William Gibson’s “Neuromancer” (for those few who were around at that time anyway), another book of book ideas and enormous cultural influence.

I wasn’t the biggest SF guy before we got this Liquorature gig going, but I’ve come around a bit, and must concede there are few genres that provide as much discussion fodder. 

Looking forward to meeting for this one.

 Posted by at 8:52 am
Sep 252014
 

Liquorature Selection #064Star Maker
26-Sept-2014

After a decent number of days slogging through this book, we’re finally on the eve of discussion.

This book was a corker in terms of content but a motherfucking nightmare to make it through.  And even still I am speaking prematurely.  We’re meeting in about 30 hours and I have about 15 pages left to finish.  Only once has a book so small (page count) given me such a struggle.  You may recall that particular piece of tripe was Edward Bellamy’s “Looking Backward”.

Don’t get me wrong, lest you think I’m saying this is a bad book.  Far from it.  It does need to be said, though, that this 1937 opus is an absolute black hole.  It sucks all of my concentration and leaves me as empty as a vacuum by the time I set it down after a few pages.

The content is as vast as one would imagine, however, so I think there will ultimately be redemption in the discussion.  If not…well…there will be plenty of good single malt in hand.

Hopefully we can sucker a few folks into discussing this one below.  Share your thoughts.

– C