Lawrence Osborne is erudite, a fine writer, and an alcoholic, capable of writing sentences that make the reader stop to reread and admire. One example, the first taste of a gin and tonic:"The drink comes with a dim music of ice cubes and a perfume that touches the nose like a smell of warmed grass. Ease returns. It is like cold steel in liquid form." He loves drinking, by himself, in a good bar, or enjoying the comradeship of jolly companions. In defense of alcohol, he traces its ancient history and the idea of new life springing from decay through the process of fermentation.He is aware of the damage that alcohol causes and seems to feel the benefit of enforced periods of abstinence. In fact, when he is asked why he is visiting Muslim countries where drinking is prohibited, he replies that he wants to "dry out." He goes back to drinking as soon as he can, but there is a hint of regret about it: " I sank the vodka into my throat and sang a silent hallelujah....And yet there was a thread of sadness in this return , a nostalgia. That word in Greek simply means, the pain of returning."
So, why does he keep drinking? He drinks because it is part of him, because he likes it, and because he has the freedom to do it. Will he quit? He has no desire or intention to do so. He ends the book by describing how he feels in the morning when he wakes, anticipating his next drink and his own demise: " I was alone ... waiting for a clock somewhere to strike six yet again, as it would every day until the final call of all."
This book was not quite what I expected from the description I initially read. That description emphasized the sociological and self-reflection aspects of the content, not the travel diary aspect. This is much more a loving caress of alcohol of all sorts as it is consumed worldwide. Though there are reflections on various cultures and how they regard drink, as well as a clear acknowledgement of the author's status as someone who can't stop drinking (with a clear tone, but lack of overt expression of self-loathing at various points - he uses societal condemnation of drinkers to convey this), it's more a verbal caress of his appreciation of wine, beer, and spirits. It's a Valentine to the places and types of drink with a lot of interesting information about the place of alcohol in several cultures.
Ultimately, I think this is the type of book best appreciated by people who also fancy themselves connoisseurs of alcohol and have empathy for his fervent attachment to it. While Lawrence Osbourne has lovely prose and is a very educated, sophisticated and experienced writer, I am simply not the right type of reader for this particular book.
on September 4, 2013
This book is a sort of travelogue . . . from Europe, lingering in the Middle East, reaching into the Far East. All strangely woven together within the fabric of; the production, consumption, and subsequent metabolization/digestion of alcoholic beverage.
Strange theme. What I found even stranger is the nature of the author - a paradox of dissipation and, often, sublime prose and insight. Intelligent, well traveled, articulate, alcoholic. And unashamedly so. The book is not a "downer". It's entertaining and intelligent, and gives frequent pause for rereading and moments of contemplation.
Some of the Muslim nations traveled by author Lawrence Osborne are dry (no alcohol) countries. Osborne celebrates the value of true sobriety and embraces the clarity. He also embraces the inevitable next drink as heartily.
At times during this read, one considers becoming a teetotaler - at other times one heads for the kitchen to make and savor a drink, returning to the easy-chair and the book.
Hangovers, blackouts, alcohol-nirvana, enhanced social intercourse, social disasters -- all there and stunningly honest. The only thing missing, I think, is that although Osborne does speak to issues regarding the underbelly of alcohol and alcoholism in society, mere writing just cannot accurately or adequately describe the tragedies of alcohol many of us have been eyewitness to - real careers and real families ruined, grand property damage, spouse abuse, child sex abuse. Right?
Some other reviewers have suggested that this book is merely an entertainment and really has no elevating value. I disagree. I think it is a thought-provoking work, prompting much self-examination, and worthy of reading by any drinker.
on July 27, 2013
Osborne's fiction is stunning, biting portayals of people, places and their relationships. This book is no different. I read it in one sitting - almost as a long essay.
It is as much travelogue as cultural critique as personal reflection.
His erudition is engaging, never dull or pretentiously drawn. His view of the places-cultures through which he travels or lives is stinging, but beautiful and almost forgiving. His personal reflection is bold, precise and kind. To find such writing is a luxury.
I didn't know anything about the author when I started to read this book, but within a few pages, I discovered that A) he likes to drink B) he is a very good writer. Weaving together history and travelogue, THE WET AND THE DRY takes the reader on a "drinker's journey," mostly through places where alcohol is either forbidden or strongly discouraged.
Osbourne's clearly intoxicated with his intoxication, but he doesn't shy away from looking at drinkers--including himself--with a witheringly critical eye. And, while he's clearly not of a mind with those who want to ban alcohol, he gives the impression of presenting their feelings--if not validating their logic--fairly. You will learn a great deal about places where alcohol is banned, and get a few glimpses into places--bars, distilleries, wineries--dedicated to it.
If you are interested in how a writer who likes to drink approaches the subject of drink and sobriety, you will enjoy this book. The tone is of an erudite man talking to you in a bar. After an hour or listening to him, you realize that he might be completely plastered, but you still found him quite engaging.
The Wet and the Dry: A Drinker's Journey, is a book that will truly only engross a specific subset of drinker. Neither the casual drinker or raging alcoholic is bound to get much out of this, other than to find Lawrence Osborne a bit of a snob. For those who spend a bit more time pondering why they drink, or even, why they love to drink, it's an entertaining and well-written affair.
The book at times reads like a personal diary, an explanation for this and that, recollections of particular events and binges, even a bit of family reflection. At other times, it reads more like a travelogue, as Obsorne recounts many events into "dry" territory (places where drink is largely banned and frowned-upon, at the very least), as he searches for his oasis (alcohol...the "wet"). He interacts with the drinker and non-drinker alike in some attempt to understand why some seem to love the drink as they do, while others meet it with seeming universal disdain.
Some may see drinking and alcoholism as being entirely depressing. Osborne's take is much more torn (and realistic), noting plenty of the evils of drink, as well as its liberations. This isn't the stark black and white portrayal of drink popular culture likes to paint, but rather a piece written in endless shades of gray written by one who happens to be right in the middle of it, navigating from one gradient to the other. I enjoy drink and see it as an intrinsic part of culture (and the lack of drink and the reasons why are just as evident in culture as the love of it). I may be just another borderline alcoholic looking for validation in pages written by another, but I enjoyed reading this and have since recommended it to more of my ilk.
on October 29, 2014
Perhaps I'm being a little too generous with five stars, but this book is about guilty pleasures. The author indulges with bittersweet regrets, and so too, I read knowing I'm taking a little too much pleasure in the descriptions of wines and liquors from someone headed for an early death from cirrhosis, or more likely a misadventure while intoxicated. I've already started his Accidental Connoisseur. I suppose I'm addicted to his writing now, and why not? Life is short and we must take pleasure where we can.
on February 18, 2014
Lawrence Osborne spends a good deal of his travelogue/memoir, THE WET AND THE DRY, sneaking down Middle Eastern alleyways, making furtive eye contact in Beirut and slipping, hopefully unseen, through darkened Pakistani doorways. At first glance one might think he is some kind of spy, some kind of super agent tracking down an elusive terrorist or seeking some critical intelligence; sort of a modern James Bond wearing considerably more down-market attire. As it turns out, though not actually a spy, Osborne is on a mission, and that mission is to drink as often as possible in as many Sharia-compliant, totally dry Muslim countries as he can.
Interspersed with his tales of derring do, or shall we say drinking do, are meditations on the particular charms of alcohol, for Mr. Osborne is that most refreshing, or possibly terrifying phenomenon, an unrepentant drinker. Having just published a novel featuring a perpetually intoxicated detective (sort of a postmodern take on the hard-boiled detective novel), I have a certain appreciation for his defiance of custom. Perhaps once you could get away with this sort of thing, but not today, when there are self-appointed guardians of the public weal ever ready to pounce on one's indiscretions.
Yet Mr. Osborne cares not a whit for his censors. He lives for his next drink, and willfully immerses himself in places where it is next to impossible to get it. He provides insights into the hypocrisies which thrive in these puritanical lands. He visits wineries in Lebanon and Egypt, whose vintners despair of their chances of passing the family firm down to the next generation. Islamists are growing too powerful too quickly, there are fewer options for those who don't toe the line. But what do you do when making wine or distilling arak is all you know how to do? You keep doing it until they tell you you no longer can. And occasionally someone like Lawrence Osborne comes along to reassure you that you are indeed on the side of the angels.
Osborne is so refreshingly frank about his drinking, and so meticulous in the way he plans his day around the last, or in anticipation of the next one, that I thought at one point, "This is the kind of book that might make a drinker think about stopping, and tempt a nondrinker to start." That's quite an achievement. It was a pleasant, if curious journey. I for one am glad Lawrence Osborne invited me along.
Do you have one of those really extroverted and outgoing friends who always seems to make friends wherever they go? I'm not one of those people, but I appreciate them on occasion, making going to new places always more of an adventure, learning about the locals and their thoughts. He's thoughtful enough himself--yeah, his drinking is a bit worrisome, but hasn't gotten out of hand, quite yet. Amiable and pensive when he drinks, that's why you always like to meet him at a bar or a pub or wherever they serve bracing beverages.
This book is a bit like you're hanging out with that buddy after he gets back from another one of his exotic trips and he tells you about who he met. After a couple of drinks, he starts talking and it makes for a relaxing evening, the sort of evening where he does all the work of a conversation.
Osborne is an engaging writer, just deep enough to feel like you're reading something worthwhile, not so deep that it becomes a lot of work.
Not a book to read if you've struggled with alcohol or have friends/family who struggle with alcohol problems. But, if it's not a problem and you're entertained by the musings of someone who likely does have a bit of a problem but makes it work for him, then this does make for an entertaining read by the pool, preferably with gin and tonic at hand.
I've written a book about wine (The New Short Course in Wine and another about beer (the Short Course in Beer), so i think a lot about drinks and drinking. As an anthropologist, I'm acutely aware of cultural context.
So The Wet and the Dry is a very provocative book for me.
This is mostly a narrative of finding alcohol in Islamic places: it's about forbidden indulgences, about catering to a passion in a place where that passion is despised and perhaps even dangerous. It's easy to identify with Osborne, the furtive drinker. It's harder to understand why he would continue to pursue a drink in places that are hostile to both drinks and drinkers. The novelty of his quest for a glass of scotch in Pakistan say, is beguiling, but in the end this is a book about forbidden pleasure with the emphasis on the forbidden and not enough on the pleasure.
What makes the book a five-star read is the author's too infrequent references to his own drinking-to what it means and what place it has in his life. I look forward to more of that from him.