I have written about books devoted to beer and brewing in prior posts. Examples include Jeff Alworth’s, The Beer Bible which Goodreads states, “….is the ultimate reader-and drinker-friendly guide to all the world’s beers.”
Another volume I’ve mentioned and purchased from the Mount Angel Abbey Book Store. Drinking with the Saints – The Sinners’ Guide to a Holy Happy Hour is also a great reference “and a concoction that both sinner and saints will savor.”
It’s a great collection of cocktails, toasts and anecdotes based on the Holy Days and saints. For example: “As our Episcopal brethren like to say, ‘Where two or three are gathered in His name, there is a fifth.'”
And then there’s my friend, Dr, Eric Hall, who teaches theology and philosophy at Carrol College. In his book, The Homebrewed Christianity Guide to God. Eric integrates academia and spirituality with wit and wisdom. For example:
“Then again, some mystics describe the deep sorrow of seeing their true self within a context of divine luminosity. Again, this idea makes sense as it’s kind of like seeing what a bar floor looks like when the lights come up: you didn’t know how many dirty old pork rinds were either on the ground or in your soul prior to the divine unveiling.”
The Rose City Book Pub
The spark for the topic of this blog post emanated from the grand opening of The Rose City Book Pub on November 3rd. This new pub is located in the former NE Portland space of County Cork (see Beerchaser review in June 2012) While I am sorry to see any bar bite the dust, it’s good news that a new watering hole filled the vacuum.
Portland Eater describes the new venture as “a bookstore-meets-bar-meets restaurant with beer, wine and comfy cafe-style menu..”
I’m just not sure if I am comfortable with a pub where regulars are sitting in comfy nooks in easy chairs rather than telling stories at the bar while raising mugs. That said, I will make a trip and let you know what I think and I wish owner, Elise Schumock well.
However, the concept pervaded my consciousness with some other thoughts on books – including pondering my own reading habits after a visit to Powells City of Books – a Portland treasure which houses about one million books.
What I Should Read Versus What I Do Read
While wondering through Powell’s, I saw some books on display with notations of “Staff Picks.” These are works of both fiction and non-fiction that Powell’s staffers are evidently reading and have favorable reactions – they print a short synopsis on a note card by the tome so you can see why it is recommended.
But I was struck by how cerebral and refined the majority of the books on these shelves appeared to me – two in particular that made me think a little bit more:
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. Now this novel did get five stars on Amazon but the staff account was “This story is a beautiful and mesmerizing coming-of-age saga featuring Kya – aka Marsh Girl. Part mystery, part love story, this book will haunt me!”
It was also a Reese Witherspoon Book Club Selection and Reese, who after all, went to Harvard Law in one of her movies, went so far as to say, “I can’t even express how much I love this book! I didn’t want this story to end!” (Perhaps she was reading it while she was hiking the Pacific Crest Trail…)
The New York Times describes it as “Painfully Beautiful,” (emphasis supplied) which makes me wonder if it was one of those books where you’re half way through and hate it, but refuse to lose the investment of time by abandoning it. You slog through it with discomfort and end up being glad you finished it afterwards.
Now the book above is a murder mystery and perhaps a good story, but The Vegetarian by Han Kang elicited this excerpted comment by the reviewer: “Somewhere between the crossroads of obsession and mental illness, lust and betrayal, the Vegetarian exists.”
This novella, which was critically acclaimed internationally, takes place in South Korea and scored 3.6 out of 5.0 stars by Goodreads. Their synopsis, in part, states, “In a country were societal mores are strictly obeyed, Yeong-hye’s decision to embrace a more ‘plant-like’ existence is a shocking act of subversion.”
Well anyway, it made me wonder what books are really on the bed stands of these reviewers. Do they really devour these for enjoyment or is it just part of the job?
It’s the same concept when magazines ask celebrities what novel they are reading. The answer is usually one by Dostoevsky, Jane Austen or F. Scott Fitzgerald or a four-hundred page non-fiction book on dialectical materialism rather than a thriller by Danielle Steele or James Patterson.
And then I remembered hearing about Oprah’s Book Club. Maybe it differs from Reese’s in that those who indicate they like her selections get a free car. Since I was reflecting, I then wondered why I had never heard any famous males who have national book clubs.
Although according to a New York Times article “Men Have Book Clubs Too,” why don’t famous guys like Warren Buffet, Tony Bennett or UCLA Coach Chip Kelly have national book clubs with recommended selections? Maybe Chip’s would feature The Carnivore…..
So I started feeling guilty looking at my own library. After having my own office on our dining room table for most of my career, in retirement I now have a wonderful library/office. Some of the collections are those my parents gave us in school.
These include the 54-volume “Great Books of the Western World” (1952) and the eighteen-volume Annals of America, both published by the Encyclopedia Britannica. There’s a bunch of others that I enthusiastically accumulated over the years with the idea that I would read them when I had more leisure time.
But I noted that although my intent has been to read Churchill’s six-volume The Second World War, all of the sixteen volumes in my set of “The Nobel Prize Library” and about 35 books on the Civil War and World War II, they sit largely untouched on the shelves.
I shouldn’t leave out the twelve of forty-one volumes in the Time/Life Collection of World War II, I bought at a used bookstore in Lincoln City a few year ago.
Although I have read some great non-fiction books in the last two years (see below) my most recent reads (which I have really enjoyed) are the Jack Reacher novels by Lee Child, a slew of John Sandford paperbacks (which prey on you…) and almost all of the wonderful mysteries by Phillip Margolin.
Should my book time be devoted to more cerebral works?
But rationality prevailed and I realize that one of the reasons I have not read more highbrow volumes is because I have spent gads of time in the last seven years visiting about 250 bars, pubs and breweries (about half in Portland the rest throughout Oregon, the US and Europe) and then writing 200+ posts on Thebeerchaser.com – each averaging about 2,200 words. I love this idiosyncratic hobby!
And it can be asserted that what some would describe as escapist-trash fiction is really enjoyable. If you look beyond the mainstream authors such as Sanford, Child, Ignatius, Turow and the aforementioned Phillip Margolin, you can find some treasures.
I’ve discovered some lesser known scribes such as Joe R. Lansdale, who has written forty-five novels. (The one below is the first one I’ve read – I liked the cover art when I saw it in the Library).
I recently read Bad Chili, a “tongue-in-cheek” murder mystery in Texas. The action is innovative e.g. an early encounter with a “vicious, angry, bloodthirsty, rabid squirrel.” Lansdale’s dialogue is unique and rich with quotes such as this one from Jim Bob Luke, a primary character:
“Life’s like a bowl of chili in a strange café. Sometimes it’s pretty tasty and spicy. Other times, it tastes like shit.”
Or the following from protagonist, Hap Collins, a working-man, turned private detective:
“His mother, a harried woman in lace-up shoes designed by the Inquisition, a long black dress, and a Pentecostal hairdo – which was a mound of brown hair tied up in a bun that looked as if it had been baked into place to contain an alien life form – was pretending to be asleep.”
I should also state that I have read some very good historical works in the last two years – among them Ike’s Spies by Stephen Ambrose and the Path Between the Seas – The Creation of the Panama Canal, both by David McCullough.
Add to that River of Doubt (Teddy Roosevelt’s exploration of the Amazon River) and Destiny of the Republic – A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President (about the assassination of President James Garfield) both by Candice Millard. All read like novels.
And I’m half way through an insightful and thought provoking work by David Brooks entitled The Road to Character – a timely topic these days….. I would heartily recommend all of the above – just do 25 pages in one of these non-fiction works and then 100 in a Jack Reacher tale before you fall asleep.
I’ll keep devouring the paperback spy adventure or murder mystery without guilt and just enjoy looking at the volumes while I’m in my office with the thought that I will at some point read another Nobel Prize author besides Hemingway (The Old Man and the Sea) read last year.
Oh, and I forgot that I studied a Great Book selection – Homer’s The Odyssey with my youngest daughter when it was a selection she studied in her senior year at high school. (I guess that was about ten years ago come to think of it…)
A Story about the Northwest’s Lawyer Novelist
Speaking of Phillip Margolin, let me introduce you to another long-time Portland lawyer. Mike Greene is a Stanford Law graduate and practiced law in Portland for many years. He is now basically retired although he still serves in an “Of Counsel” capacity to a small law firm.
Since I worked at the Oregon State Bar and in Portland’s second largest law firm for a combined total of over thirty years, I know and have a lot of attorney friends. Mike is one of my favorites.
After graduating from Stanford, he was admitted to the Oregon State Bar in 1972, and became a highly respected trial lawyer – Oregon Super Lawyer six times – among other peer review honors. Like many of the counselors I know he has also devoted a considerable time to civic and professional endeavors.
Mike’s resume of these goes beyond most and he has been involved in American Diabetes Association work since 1982 and was Chair of the National Board of Directors from 1994 to 1995. He also created a legal advocacy program to fight discrimination on behalf of people with diabetes.
Recently I read one of Phillip Margolin’s earlier novels that I had inadvertently skipped, since I have read and enjoyed almost all of his twenty-three books, all of which have been in the New York Times best-seller list. In Fugitive, one of the primary characters is a senior deputy district attorney, named Mike Greene – the boyfriend of protagonist, Amanda Jaffe, a criminal defense lawyer.
I thought that I remembered this character from a few of the other Margolin mysteries. Now the Portland Bar is a “small community” and Mike is about the same vintage as Phillip Margolin. So I e-mailed Mike and wrote:
“I know that a number of novelists name characters after friends and/or colleagues and this seemed to be more than a coincidence.”
”Phil has been a friend for decades. I purchased at a Diabetes Auction, the privilege of Phil using my name. He liked the name and character he created to use the name. I am now in five of his books. What a purchase? A piece of immortality? It’s fun. I have been asked about this by many people over the years.”
Mike and I go to the same church and last Sunday when we chatted, he agreed to send me the names of the novels in which Mike Greene makes his appearance. He added that the topic has helped break-the–ice in some tense legal negotiations over the years.
I told him that I assumed the Oregon State Bar could not prosecute him for any disciplinary issues that might arise from his conduct in the novels.
If you are reading any of the following Margolin novels, look for Mike Greene: Wild Justice (2000), Ties that Bind (2003), Proof Positive (2006), Fugitive (2009) and Violent Crimes (2016).
As an aside, besides his writing career – he began writing full-time in 1996 – Phillip Margolin had a distinguished legal career as well. After graduating from NYU School of Law in 1970, he started by clerking for the Chief Judge of the Oregon the Court of Appeals. As an appellate lawyer, he has appeared in the US Supreme Court, the Ninth Circuit Federal Court of Appeals and both the Oregon Supreme Court and Court of Appeals.
As a trial lawyer, he represented about thirty people charged with homicide, including several who faced the death penalty. His service to others began with a two-year stint in the Peace Corps after college graduation and he taught junior high in the South Bronx during his last two years of law school.
He was Chair of the Board for Chess for Success from 1996 to 2009, a non-profit that uses chess to teach elementary and middle school children in Title I schools study skills. He was also on the Board of Literary Arts, which sponsors the Oregon Book Awards from 2007 to 2013.
I regret that I never got to see either Mike Greene or Phillip Margolin in the courtroom!
Another notable Portland lawyer was Tom Dulcich, who I knew from working with him for twenty-five years at Schwabe Williamson & Wyatt. Tom passed away in July at the age of 65 from a rare form of cancer.
The Astoria native besides being a wonderful human being was the consummate lawyer. He was a Phi Beta Kappa grad at the U of O and one of two Rhodes Scholar finalists in 1976. He attended one of the nation’s leading law schools – the University of Chicago and started his 38-year career as a Schwabe trial lawyer soon afterwards.
He was a fellow in the prestigious American College of Trial Lawyers, served on the Schwabe Board of Directors and as a member and Chair of the Board of the Columbia Maritime Museum. He was a man of faith and family.
One of his passions was fishing and he took pride in operating the family’s gillnet boat. In fact, a number of years ago, when the late Supreme Court Justice, Antonin Scalia was in Oregon for a speech, he asked Tom to be his guide in a successful fishing trip on the Columbia River.
Earlier in the post, I mentioned some good brew-related books and I remembered one other mentioned in the The Week magazine. The Wet and the Dry: a Drinker’s Journey relates a pub crawl, of sorts, that author, Lawrence Osborne, took through the Middle East and Southern Asia.
Now I have read (and used as a resource) some similar books including Colorado – A Liquid History & Tavern Guide to the Highest State by Dr. Thomas J. Noel, a professor at the University of Colorado, who visited every bar in Colorado for a doctoral thesis.
And don’t forget Joan Melcher, who essentially made the same journey (50 watering holes) in Montana as documented in Montana Watering Holes – The Big Sky’s Best Bars.
It seems a little unusual to undertake this type of study in some countries where alcohol is illegal, but as the reviewer states, “If you are looking for ‘an entertaining romp through half the bars in the Middle East” The Wet and the Dry will not disappoint.”