October 18, 2015

"Susan Cheever... includes a heart-lacerating quote by her father: 'If you are an artist, self-destruction is quite expected of you.'"

"'The thrill of staring into the abyss is exciting until it becomes, as it did in my case, contemptible.' She notes that 'all five of our twentieth-century literature Nobel laureates were alcoholic — Sinclair Lewis, Eugene O’Neill, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, and John Steinbeck.' (A proud tally.) And those are the ones who made it to the top. Lots of other great writers who didn’t receive the Nobel laurel were just as pie-eyed. Today, the pendulum seems to have swung again. Cheever says that most of our leading literary figures are fairly abstemious. Whether this will make for more interesting biographies remains to be seen."

From Christopher Buckley's review of Susan Cheever's "Drinking in America: Our Secret History."

17 comments:

rhhardin said...

Today, the pendulum seems to have swung again.

The pudendum has swung again.

Why go with a cliche.

Lonetown said...

Interesting point about alcohol and great writers now swinging to the abstemious. Does that mean writers are changing or our taste in writing?

Carol said...

For some reason there's no link in Buckley's name.

Laslo Spatula said...

""'The thrill of staring into the abyss is exciting until it becomes, as it did in my case, contemptible.'"

I thought I was staring into the Abyss but it turns out it was just porn.

Pull back the camera, people.

I am Laslo.

mikee said...

My favorite genre, Science Fiction, has in recent years experienced a pushback by readers and authors against entrenched leftist publishers and those awarding literary honors - particularly the Hugo Awards.

The pushback against leftist, progressive, politically correct dogma as the required standard for getting published or awarded for "excellence" in SciFi demonstrated several important things: publishers and awards committees rewarded political ideology of authors and stories, over popularity or written quality of a work; publishers and awards committees denied this ideological test existed for publishing or rewarding SciFi; when such political tests were clearly demonstrated, the leftist publishing crowd howled outrage and smeared those demonstrating the existence of leftist PC crap; and when those outside the group controlling the Hugo Awards took steps, within the rules, to gain nominations and awards for work not liked by the "in group," all hell broke loose as the "in group" attempted to retain power over publishing and awards.

Everything is life is political, to a leftist prog. And if you don't like it, they will do all in their power to exclude you from everything, or defame you, or send you off for re-education, preferably in a slave labor camp, until you are dead.

Every damn time.

And that is my bit of current history about writing and literature in the US today.

FWBuff said...

Pearl Buck and Toni Morrison were also American Nobel Laureates for literature during the 20th century, neither of whom was an alcoholic. Did Cheever leave them off her list because they busted her narrative?

rehajm said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
rehajm said...

I'm buying the book because 1- The first Amazon review title says it's '...worth it for the JFK chapter alone' and 2- I want to see how many clever ways Cheever finds to describe being shitfaced.

Michael K said...

Christopher Buckley and Ron Reagan share the absence of a Y chromosome.

sydney said...

Also, Isaac Bashevis Singer was an American nobel laureate. Is there any evidence he was an alcoholic?
I suspect there is a high rate of alcoholism amongst writers because it is the one job where you have the freedom to work on your own time and alone, so there's time to sleep off the drunk on your own terms without a boss canning your ass.

buwaya puti said...

They busted her narrative.
Also the Nobel is not always given to the worthy.
And the range of the acceptable in terms of literary genre has absurdly narrowed.
Pearl Buck would not be thought of as a candidate today. Way too popular.
Back in the earlier days of the Nobel they even gave it to Mommsen and Churchill, for history. Nobody in that field considered these days though there are many worthy candidates.
The best two recent winners were Vargas Llosa and Naipaul, both deserved it. The rest are mainly political choices or nonentities.

Ann Althouse said...

Sorry about the missing link.

Fixed.

buwaya puti said...

And Saul Bellow.
Though born in Canada, he may not count.
Not an alcoholic AFAIK.
My favorite of the semi-forgotten winners (granted I'm not up on semi-forgotten Nordic poets and etc.) is Sienkiewicz.
That is adventure fiction on a grand scale, great stuff.
It's not often that books that are actually fun win a Nobel.

Hammond X. Gritzkofe said...

Sorry, I got stopped at "heart-lacerating quote."

Paper cut?

Leora said...

Saul Bellow is chopped liver?

rcocean said...

"Saul Bellow is chopped liver?"

As a novelist? Yes, plus he was a Canadian. And nobody with any literary taste thinks Morrison or Buck are anywhere near the same as Hemingway, Steinbeck, Faulkner, or Sinclair Lewis. I'd throw in Fitzgerald, Jack London, O'Hara, Cozzens, O'Neil, Tennessee Williams, Chandler, and Hammett as other Great American writers with a booze problem.

For some reason most 19th Century American Novelists didn't have alcohol problems nor did most Great American poets; Pound, Frost, Eliot for example.

Bill Peschel said...

I'm giving this book a miss, given its many errors and Cheever's silly position that this is a "hidden history." I wrote a book collecting stories about great writers, and found plenty of biographies that dealt with the subject's drinking and its affect on his or her fiction. There are even book that, like SC's, focused on alcohol use by writers.

She also misses that from ancient times up until the development of water-treatment plants, drinking tap water left you vulnerable to dysentery and cholera. It was safer and even healthier to drink alcohol.

Nor is there anything uniquely American about alcohol consumption. Every country has its heavy drinkers.

John Cheever's quote reflects far more on him than on the culture he grew up in.