Reading, writing and drinking — ‘A Sidecar Named Desire’ offers the perfect trio

The holiday season started with a cup of cheer.

Then there was a sip of wassail, some mistletoe and wine, and rummy-tum-tum along the way. It’ll likely end with a cup of kindness yet for Auld Lang Syne and a pretty nice headache. The only thing left to do, then, as in the new book “A Sidecar Named Desire” by Greg Clarke and Monte Beauchamp, is to write about it.

Imagine the surprise felt by one of our ancient ancestors who put a few grapes aside for a snack later. She must’ve been angry at first — and then pleasantly surprised.

Her discovery, and those that came after her, have been decried by “temperance zealots” throughout the years; Prohibition was a big thing and abstinence is promoted even now. And yet, say Clarke and Beauchamp, “considerable” evidence points to a tie between drinking and “great writing.”

Ancient Roman poets loved their wine, for instance, and Shakespeare was a big fan. Thomas Jefferson ordered cases and cases of it on a visit to France, and author Roald Dahl not only drank it, but he wrote a short story about wine, too.

Beer was once used in lieu of a paycheck in ancient Egypt, but Greeks and Romans claimed that beer was “inferior” to wine. Even so, say the authors, Jack London loved his suds and Jane Austen made beer using a common ingredient available in her back yard. Norman Mailer claimed to “need” a beer every afternoon.

If you’ve ever wondered which came first, author Michael Veach says bourbon’s name came from Bourbon Street. Langston Hughes was said to have love a glass of it, and William Faulkner listed whiskey as one of his writing tools. Gin and tonic seems to have been a P.G. Wodehouse creation. E.B. White had a martini when suffering from writer’s block and Ian Fleming “inadvertently” helped vodka sales with James Bond’s martini instructions. Among other things, Hemingway loved Bloody Marys, Kerouac enjoyed margaritas, Steven King once said that alcohol use made for a “better writer,” and Hunter S. Thompson drank (mostly) bourbon and scotch. And Tolstoy?

Nope, he was a teetotaler.

A roaring fire, a glass of wine, and a good book. Is there a better trio? When the book is “A Sidecar Named Desire,” the answer is an emphatic “no.”

In beginning each chapter with a history of the proceeding alcohol at hand, authors Greg Clarke and Monte Beauchamp peek into the glasses of writers from antiquity to modern-day, literature to light reading. These are tasty sip-at-leisure chapters, more continuous sidebar than paragraphical, and perfect for browsing or a quick dip made possible by drawings that indicate a jigger of lightheartedness is shaken, not stirred in. And if you really like to get involved in your reading and want the full experience, there are recipes to try. Salud!

Imbibers and abstainers alike will love learning about their favorite writers in “A Sidecar Named Desire,” so have a little serving. Auld acquaintance may’ve been “forgot” but this is a book you won’t.

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