The Do’s and Don’ts of Mixing Books with Booze

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Michelle Anne Schingler, a former librarian and Hebrew school teacher, is the managing editor at Foreword Reviews. Her days are books, books, books; she knows how lucky that makes her.  Twitter: @mschingler

Let’s talk cocktail hour, shall we?

I think that gin is a magical ingredient. I believe that, as the ads say, Guinness is good for you. I contend that an offered wine pairing is a sin to turn down. I am not adverse to raising my glass and proclaiming l’chaim! on the somewhat regular (l’chaim, you know, renders a glass of wine a religious act*). Tequila Mockingbird isn’t even a subtle invitation to combine reading and drinking in a clever, and therefore sanctioned, way. Writers drink; you love the work of writers; ipso facto, blah blah blah, another round.

But drinking lowers inhibitions, and this does nothing good for those of us with lines of credit anywhere. I cannot pretend that I’ve never made a fiscally reckless decision after a particularly ebullient round of drinks. My most reliable downfall? Online book shopping. (If I ever impulse-purchase the Talmud, which I have thus far been saved from doing because credit card limits, I will know it’s gone too far.)

Not that an expanding library is something to bemoan! Books are a beautiful thing. They’re also costly. And while the cost of living keeps rising, wages have been lazy to meet them.

So in the name of foregoing instant bookish gratification in favor of saving for that dream house with the stories-high personal library, I’ve compiled some suggestions for mixing books with booze, based on my own shopping-while-cocktailed experiences. May they be helpful, and here’s to you.

DON’T: Choose a bar in close proximity to a bookstore. You’re just asking for it. Like you’re not going to lope over while you’re waiting for your next Aviation or Old Fashioned and hand over your card for that beautiful Lois Lowry omnibus you’ve been eyeing. Signed copies? First editions? Forghedaboudit, you’re doomed. (This advice comes with a knowing, begrudgingly respectful nod to the booze purveyors one step ahead of us, who’ve already combined drink-and-bookstore establishments. You are both brilliant and cruel, barkeeps.)

DO: Opt for cocktails in, and share them with friends. If you’re feeling particularly itchy for a book binge, relinquish your phone to a trustworthy friend after the first cocktail so that you can’t sneak a purchase under the table between rounds.

DON’T:  Shop without a list. Know your own collection well enough to avoid the accidental double-buy. Your impulse control is DOWN, so give yourself a moment between stumbling upon an amazing book and buying it, just in case your taste has already been this on-point before. Go over your personal catalog twice in your mind. Only commit when you’re absolutely sure that you’re adding something new to your collection.

Do not–do NOT–under any circumstances, bring up writers you respect who spent their adult lives perpetually sloshed. Yes, Dorothy Parker was amazing, but say her name three times, and you’ll have invoked a Beetlejuice-like specter whose sole power is persuading you to buy more books. You know what you’re doing. Stop.

DO:  Talk about someone chaste and dull instead–someone who might accidentally lead to an angry pounding of your beverage, but who would never, ever inspire you to buy more books.

DO:  Make yourself a safe-to-impulse-purchase wish list on Amazon. (Is this tantamount to admitting that you have a cocktail problem? Absolutely not. Calm down with this line of reasoning.) Add titles that SORT OF interest you, and that you can buy used for a penny plus shipping. Penny books are a cocktail hour godsend.

DO:  Avoid cost entirely by, as one Rioter has admitted to doing, placing tons of items on hold at your local library instead of buying whatever you have the sudden impulse to read. You will have every title you desire, and your librarians will love you for increasing their circulation numbers. This may be one of those rare instances in which a cocktail order actually makes someone else’s life better.

DON’T: Mistake a catchy title or cover for fate. This is how someone could hypothetically perhaps end up with a copy of, say, Jews and Booze (“You called?”) that breaks other rules. Not that Jews and Booze isn’t a fun book. Hypothetically, you just may not have needed it.

DO:  Regularly look back on past Amazon purchases, and chide yourself for the items you never should’ve fallen for. You knew better. Carry that chastened spirit over into your next cocktail hour.

DON’T:  Attempt to reason your way into a cheat. Rules exist for a reason; you’re neither going to call your ex-partner, nor break any of the agreements you’ve committed to above. If you stumble over a title at a brick-and-mortar store that you think you must have, the exception, the chupacapbra!, but that exceeds your price ceiling or title count or whatever, at most ask the bookstore to put a twenty-four hour hold on the item. If shopping online: add it to your cart, but resist checking out. Come back when you’re feeling more Asimov than Hemingway. THEN decide.

I believe in you, fellow readers. We can get through upcoming happy hours without the expectation of surprise book-shaped packages coming in the mail, I’m sure. We shall prevail.

*This is zero percent true and is very bad theology. Many apologies to my religious leaders, former classmates and professors.