Charles Baxter asks, on PowellsBooks.Blog, why is it always male writers who get discussed when we talk about drunken authors. His post takes as its starting point a request for a review of Olivia Laing’s The Trip to Echo Spring: On Writers and Drinking, published in 2013. Ms Laing examines the creativity/alcohol connection as exemplified by six writers: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, John Berryman, John Cheever, and Raymond Carver.

True they are all men, but what I always wonder is why do we fixate on drunken writers? I have no idea where statistics might be found, but I would be ready to bet that the rate of alcoholism among writers was not wildly different from that for the general public. I suspect it’s just more interesting to think about a drunken poet than a drunken plumber. (A drunken plumber can do so much more harm though.) Still a partying author is doubtless more likely to record his escapades in writing. We don’t tend to read plumbers’ diaries, so we probably just hear more about drinking by writers.

hemingwasted-cover-final_031015Hemingwasted is the slightly libelous (though of course you can’t libel the dead) title of a coloring book being created specially for Independent Bookstore Day by Brazos Bookstore in Houston. Shelf Awareness tells us “Hemingwasted contains 16 pages featuring legendary authors paired with quotes on the subject of drinking (e.g., Ogden Nash: ‘Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker’).” Why do I feel a little uneasy about this method of promoting books and reading? Maybe it’s the alliterative clanging of the subtitle: A Loving Look at Literary Lushes. Let’s hope Brazos have confined their subjects to authors who are past suing.

The disinhibiting function of the bottle is nicely, if glancingly indicated in William Gass’ Preface to his collection In the Heart of the Heart of the Country (New York Review Books, 2015). “Few of the stories one has it in one’s self to speak get spoken, because the heart rarely confesses to intelligence its deeper needs; and few of the stories one has at the top of one’s head to tell get told, because the mind does not always possess the voice for them. Even when the voice is there, and the tongue is limber as if with liquor or with love, where is that sensitive, admiring, other pair of ears?” If inhibition is your enemy, the true battle-craft comes in gauging the alcohol intake so that the tongue is limber while the fingers remain so too in order that they can hit the right keys, or hold the pen.