Booze and the Book

Some writers claim to be able to write when drunk and a few even claim it helps. I’m not one of them. Clarity and routine are the things that keep me writing. And let’s not even go near the subject of what hangovers do for productivity. But booze features highly in the lives and the books of some of the best writers. Booze may not have made him a happier, healthier person, but its hard to see how sobriety could have improved F. Scott Fitzgerald’s prose style. Over at The Outfit, where they are celebrating Raymond Chandler’s great novel The Long Good-Bye, Sam Reaves has a terrific post arguing that Chandler’s masterpiece is not only a book soaked in booze, but also a great American novel. The book was written under difficult circumstances–Chandler’s wife, Cissy, was dying, and alcoholism was destroying his health–but the book gods smiled and it worked out fine:

Chandler’s style has spawned so many imitators that it’s easy to forget how incisive and apt and startling the original was. The girl gave him a look which ought to have stuck at least four inches out of his back… The book is full of Chandler’s carefully machined similes, so easy to parody and so hard to nail, and on every page he finds new ways of using the language to convey atmosphere or personality with precision: “I couldn’t hear the laugh but the hole in her face when she unzippered her teeth was all I needed.” Chandler was one of the great stylistic innovators in American literature.

Among the great features of The Long Good-Bye are the passages in which Chandler eulogises on bars and drinking or describes them in loving and often melancholy detail. Reaves quotes this from chapter 13, but there is much, much more:

…you knew that he got up on the bottle and only let go of it when he fell asleep at night. He would be like that for the rest of his life and that was what his life was… There is a sad man like that in every quiet bar in the world..

Here’s the link again.

2 thoughts on “Booze and the Book”

  1. When I was doing my English Lit degree I belonged to a society called ‘Books and Booze’. We met every Thursday in the back room of a pub along the road, had a presentation from a member of the department, then talked about it, and – er – drank.

    Some of the best evenings of my degree. That said, I’m not sure that it enhanced any skill other than my ability to drink beer. Fun, though.

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