08 May 2023

Bottoms Up

We’re often asked which politician we’d like to go have a beer with.  But what about writers?  Luckily, I know a lot of writers and they would all gladly have a beer with almost anyone.  Or maybe a bourbon on the rocks or a little white wine. 

If I got my pick from history, I’d definitely avoid Hemingway, who’d challenge me to a boxing match after the 11th Pernod.  Shakespeare might be entertaining if you could understand what the hell he was saying.  Dorothy Parker, for sure, along with the whole Algonquin crowd.  I’d pretend I was mute to avoid saying the one stupid thing ever uttered in the Oak Room.

I’d not only have a beer with PJ O’Rourke, I’d buy.  And keep buying as long as he could still conjure those genius wisecracks.  I actually had a drink with Tom Bodette, and he was as funny as, well, PJ O’Rourke.  I pounded a night of scotches with William Styron, and he wasn’t the least bit funny, from what I remember, which isn’t much.  He did stare into his drink a lot and say things like, “Sometimes my words remind me of little crippled children.”  Speaking of scotch, I witnessed Christopher Hitchens down at least a liter of the stuff and never once lose command of his perfect word choice and enunciation.  He spoke as he wrote, in exquisitely rendered, complete sentences.  Churchill could exhibit the same Olympian capacity and refined eloquence.  Must be something about the English liver. 

I studied early to mid-20th century American literature.  Some of those folks won the Nobel prize and virtually all of them were alcoholics.  My scholarship revealed that the more they drank, the worst their writing became, career ruin frequently following.  So I’d pass on any of their offers to go have a beer, not wanting to aid in the corruption of American letters.

F. Scott Fitzgerald couldn’t hold his liquor, so no fun at all, despite the reputation.  Not so Zelda, who not only swam in fountains, but could consume their average volume in a single evening.  We don’t know much about the drinking habits of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, though enough booze was consumed in their flat at 27 rue de Fleurus to refloat the Titanic.  She did famously complain that her designated Lost Generation drank themselves to death, and she wasn’t much wrong, though luckily the prophecy took a while to be fully consumated.   

While we’re discussing female novelists, who wouldn’t want to have a drink with Patricia Highsmith?  Or Anaïs Nin?  I would likely have to get to the bar first to fortify myself, since sitting across from that much dark brilliance might make the Algonquin Round Table feel like a cub scout retreat.

Though not if Anaïs brought along Henry Miller, whose loony, irreverent poetics could lift the London fog and polish the streets of the Rive Gauche into bijoux scintillants.  I’d have to buy this time as well, since Henry was always broke, though rarely as broke as Jack Kerouac.  He’s another important American writer who had a few beers too many, but if you caught him in the early days with Neal Cassidy, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Gary Snyder it would count as a life transformer, if your head didn’t explode from the gush of frantic, bebop exposition.

I never had a drink with Tom Wolfe, though we once spent a nice long stretch in a green room (I think Diet Coke was the available beverage.)  He was pretty old at this point, but as sweet and kindly a person as could be, the soft Virginia accent still gracing his inflections.  And quite the dresser, if you fancy mostly white with a light blue shirt and white cane (his all-white Cadillac, with white hubcaps, was out in the parking lot.) 

Since writers spend so much time locked up in quiet rooms by themselves, you wouldn’t think they’d be such good company, but they usually are.  They tend to know a lot of things you'd never even think about.  And they spend many of those hours in quiet rooms mulling things over, trying to get something to make sense on the written page.  If you’re lucky, they’ll hash it out over that beer, or vodka on the rocks.   

In fact, I’d rather hang with writers than all the politicians in all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world.


  1. Fun post, Chris. And I'd hang with any of the many contemporary mystery writers I've been lucky enough to meet, which is a large sample. By and large, mystery writers are generous to a fault. You yourself blurbed my first self-published book, as I remember. The only two I have not met and would like to may be Laura Lippman and Robert Crais.

    I can think of few 20th-century writers I want to meet. Maybe Edith Wharton or playwright John Patrick Shanley. Definitely NOT Miller, O'Neill, or Williams. For the 19th century, Stephen Crane or Mark Twain (FWIW, my wife works as a docent at the Mark Twain House in Hartford). Crane was a staunch defender of women, and Twain liked cats. Possibly Hawthorne if we could discuss his short stories and stay well away from his novels.

    1. I chatted with Laura Lippman a few tines. Charming lady. No pretense. Never met Crais, Though Lee Child was a fixture at the mystery writers conferences, and very approachable and generous with his time and attention. Also David Morrell and Craig Johnson. You're right about the sub culture. The best I've ever experienced.

  2. James Thurber, Robert Benchley, Dorothy Parker. Thomas Merton, Florence King, Nancy Mitford. E. F. Benson, E. M. Delafield, Somerset Maugham. Mark Twain and James McNeill Whistler, just to see which one would out-talk the other.

    1. Lawrence Durrell, Henry Miller, John Steinbeck, Nathaniel West. Not Sylvia Plath. Too scary. Met E.L. Doctrow, but he was way too old at that point. Met John Irving and Jonathan Franzen. Both jerks.

  3. Elizabeth Dearborn08 May, 2023 14:38

    Well I'm not a drinker, but in 1969 or so I went to a party attended by Allen Ginsberg, where many substances were enjoyed!

    1. Elizabeth, Allen Ginsberg came to my college for a talk back around 1971. He ended up hanging around a dorm room with a bunch of kids, which I didn't know when I burst into the room. His back was to the door and I literally tripped over him. He took it well. I'm only glad I didn't step on his little concertina.

  4. Dorothy Parker, for certain. I'd grab time with Chaucer whilst everyone else was basking in the glow of Shakespeare. Mark Twain was presumably a relative. No, don't be snarky– I never met him.

    Within the mystery community, I'd simply like to meet my fellow SleuthSayers. I've been fortunate enough to have not only met, but had dinner with my heroines, Janet Hutchings and Linda Landrigan, and also Ed Hoch and (thanks to JLW) John Lutz.

    1. Leigh, I agree, I'd love to meet with all of us SleuthSayers!


Welcome. Please feel free to comment.

Our corporate secretary is notoriously lax when it comes to comments trapped in the spam folder. It may take Velma a few days to notice, usually after digging in a bottom drawer for a packet of seamed hose, a .38, her flask, or a cigarette.

She’s also sarcastically flip-lipped, but where else can a P.I. find a gal who can wield a candlestick phone, a typewriter, and a gat all at the same time? So bear with us, we value your comment. Once she finishes her Fatima Long Gold.

You can format HTML codes of <b>bold</b>, <i>italics</i>, and links: <a href="https://about.me/SleuthSayers">SleuthSayers</a>