Posts Filed Under book reviews
I seem to be in ‘book mode’ the last week or two. I’m a bit of a bookworm, so it’s fun for me to mess around at the intersection of wine and the printed word. I still don’t own an eReader device, by the way – I prefer Book 1.0 – you know, the kind with actual pages that you can stick a bookmark between.
Anyway, here’s another piece of printed word that intersects with the wacky world of wine.
David White’s Sippin’ on Top of the World: Toasting Good Times and Better Days, of which I recently received a sample copy, is a bit of a strange book.
In fact, I’d go so far as to say that it’s being misrepresented.
Sippin’ on Top of the World isn’t so much a list of wine toasts (as the subtitle would lead you to believe) as it is a series of spiritual wine meditations. Which makes sense when you consider that its author, David White, is the co-founder of the “WineSpirit Institute for the Study of Wine and Spirituality.”
At this point, your mind may be screaming “CULT! CULT!” and planning to run away as quickly as you can lest you be tainted by the odiferous funk of the religious cook. It would be an understandable reaction, though one that I’d argue was totally incorrect.
In fact, depending on your point of view, dismiss Sippin’ on Top of the World too readily and you’d be missing out on some potentially enthralling conversation topics, not to mention possible sources of inspiration…
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To many people, the charismatic front-man of the iconic Boony Doon wine brands, Randall Grahm, is the Mad Hatter of the wine world.
Once they read Randall’s recently-released book, Been Doon So Long: A Randall Grahm Vinthology, those same people will realize that they’re dead wrong.
Randall Grahm is not the wine world’s Mad Hatter; Randall Grahm is the wine world’s Cheshire Cat, equally (and eloquently) adept at satirizing the modern trends of the wine industry as he is at continually surprising wine consumers with quirky, excellent wines inspired by a desire to transmit the equally quirky and excellent message that California’s terroir has to tell.
Been Doon So Long is, at times, a masterstroke; it’s just as interesting, funny, poignant, and acerbic as any wine that California has ever had to offer. Clearly an avid lover of literature, music, and wine, Randall Grahm has somehow managed to utilize all three as he takes us through the history of Bonny Doon, offers intimate glimpses of his personal demons, and sends up many of the wine world’s most sacred cows. If he has a mad hat, Grahm is clearly capable of pulling rabbits out of it – both when it comes to wine and when it comes to writing.
Been Doon So Long is a unique work, and while it might not be the kind of book that you’d expect from the world of wine, it’s probably the book that the wine world deserves right now. I found reading the book to be rewarding, but rather like the fabled rabbit hole, the deeper you get into it, the more difficult it becomes to fully explain. Which is why I figured I’d let someone msarter (Randall) explain it instead.
[ Special note to the FTC: Have I received the book and Bonny Doon wines as free samples? Yep. Did that influence my review of the book? I don’t think so, but I’m not a psychologist. ]
Following is an interview I conducted with Randall this week while he’s in the midst of his promotional tour for Been Doon So Long. Like the book, the interview will give you a glimpse into the rabbit hole of Randall’s mind. You’ll encounter below a guy with a formidable prowess with the written word, strong opinions, a consuming passion to find a Californian wine that truly speaks of its origin, and who isn’t afraid to wear his emotions in plain view.
But before you head down this rabbit hole, be sure to gather up your smarties, love of literature, an open mind, and a glass of something unique and terroir-driven. You’re gonna need ‘em…
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- Pronunciation: \-jē\
- Function: noun
- Inflected Form(s): plural et·y·mol·o·gies
- Etymology: Middle English ethimologie, from Anglo-French, from Latin etymologia, from Greek, from etymon + -logia -logy
- Date: 14th century
1 : the history of a linguistic form (as a word) shown by tracing its development since its earliest recorded occurrence in the language where it is found, by tracing its transmission from one language to another, by analyzing it into its component parts, by identifying its cognates in other languages, or by tracing it and its cognates to a common ancestral form in an ancestral language
2 : a branch of linguistics concerned with etymologies
I’m not sure exactly when I fell in love with words. I think it happened in high school; though I’ve been a voracious reader for as long as I can remember, I distinctly recall a time in the early Summer during the middle of high school where I became fascinated by the English language, obscure words, and their histories. I vividly remember devouring books like The Endangered English Dictionary. It just sort of… happened, not terribly different from how I fell in love with wine, actually.
Mind you, my love affair with wine happened well after high school, since I was of course too young to legally drink alcohol back them… ahem…
I was recently contacted by Charles Hodgson, an author and podcaster about receiving a review copy of his latest book, History of Wine Words – An Intoxicating Dictionary of Etymology and Word Histories from the Vineyard, Glass, and Bottle. I’m sure that Charles wanted to send me a copy because of the blog (mine, I mean), and not because of my closet desire to be an etymologist, since there’s no way he could have known about that unless he’s also a clairvoyant (to the best of my knowledge, his podcast is about etymology and not long-distance cross-border mind-reading).
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Today has the Dude taking another dip into the sample box, though this time I’m not coming back up with a wine, but with a book about wine.
Or, rather, a book with quips (and cartoons) about wine.
For a book with contents that I sometimes found hilarious, Malcolm Kushner’s Vintage Humor for Wine Lovers at turns made me groan, as in the eye-rolling, are-you-f—king-kidding-me? type of groan.
Turn to a random page in Vintage Humor for Wine Lovers, and you’re likely to find a strange juxtaposition – at least, I did – in which a very funny quip is followed quickly by something that resembles the kind of humor that makes you want to cover the book in Pedigree and feed it to a junkyard dog.
Take, for example, the following excerpts from Vintage Humor for Wine Lovers’s “Toasted” section (of witty wine toasts):
“To good friends – if you want one, get a dog”
Not funny –
“To foolishness – it’s more fun than Elliot Ness”
Here’s another one, from the “Q&A About Wine” section:
“Q. How do you make a small fortune in the wine business?
A. Start with a large fortune and buy a winery.”
Not funny –
Q. Who invented the first champagne [sic] with no bubbles?
A. Dumb Perignon
(I swear I did not make that last one up).
You’re almost guaranteed to find something amusing in Kushner’s collection, no matter what your sense of humor. And therein lies the rub with Vintage Humor for Wine Lovers.
Assembling diverse (or even totally inconsistent) stylistic pieces in one place hasn’t worked well for anyone since the Beatles, so whether or not you’ll enjoy Vintage Humor for Wine Lovers depends mostly on your tolerance for diverse styles of humor. You’ll definitely find something that will make you chuckle (or laugh out lout) – but you’ll be doing some skipping and page flipping in between those moments.
(images: amazon.com, paraorkut.com)