Commendationes Tabernae II: Cervisiae Lupinae

This feature will now have a Latin title.  Why?  Because Latin is cool!  At any rate, I had hoped that this feature would be weekly, but it is harder to sense a legitimate connection between booze and books than I thought.  Of course, the connection can be obvious, like if a book features a certain alcoholic beverage prominently.  (E.g. James Bond novels and vodka martinis)  But, usually I’m going for something more subtle and relying upon gut feeling.

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For example, one beer which won’t be recommended below is North Coast’s Scrimshaw Pilsner, which recalls the manga Chrono Crusade to mind.  Chrono Crusade is a Japanese comic set in America with Model 1911 toting nuns fighting supernatural battles against rebel demons and other things that go bump in the night.  The Scrimshaw reminds me of this book because it is an Americanized version of a foreign beer in the same way as Chrono Crusade is a Japanese version of America.  The beer’s creaminess evokes the diary farms of Wisconsin–where much of the manga’s action takes place, its brewer is based in California–whither our heroes journey, and the many scenes occurring around a wharf and other areas of blue-collar labor remind me that pilsners are beloved of the working class.

However, you won’t see me recommending manga here!  I have Medieval Otaku for that.  Interestingly, the three beer and book combinations this week are all related to wolves in some way.  May you find time to enjoy both the literature and the ale!

Founders Centennial IPA

1) Founders’ Centennial IPA

This beer features some well integrated flavors.  Melded with the malt backbone of the beer are the hops which lend it sweet grapefruit and piney bitterness.  My friend disliked the piney aftertaste, but I thought the flavors balanced better than most American IPAs.  Its fine balance makes me almost think of it as an English IPA.

What work of literature does this beer bring to mind?  None other than The Sight by David Clement-Davies.  This happens to be one of the most tragic books I’ve ever read, made even more so by how endearing the characters were.  Our main characters happen to be wolves living during a turbulent time in the Middle Ages.  This is probably one of the best YA novels ever produced.  So, the piney flavor of the IPA reminds me of the tragedy, the sweet malt and grapefruit hops of the likable characters, and the well balanced flavors of the book’s solid storytelling.  Yet, to tell you the truth, I forgot what the main plot of the story was.  I’ll have to revisit it someday!

The Sight

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2) Victory Brewing’s Winter Cheers

This is a very unusual beer: a wheat ale made for the winter months!  Most winter ales fall among the winter warmer, porter, or stout range.  Winter Cheers makes up for its lack of malt by having a full and voluptuous body.  The banana and clove flavors taste very vibrant on the palate–almost as vibrant as the Belgian ale called Duval.  At the same time, I can’t help but compare it to Weihenstephaner, a very famous wheat ale produced originally in a German abbey.

Another picture of the same beer

Another picture of the same beer

And so, this beer reminds me of Spice and Wolf by Isuna Hasekura.  (Yes, I won’t recommend comics here, but light novels are another animal!)  Holo starts out as a goddess famed for producing great harvests of wheat.  Yet, around the time of the first novel, a new monotheistic religion with parallels to the Catholic Church has gained ascendancy, which causes the villagers to cease to believe in Holo.  She decides to leave the village and enlists the aid of the travelling merchant Craft Lawrence so that she may return to her snowy homeland of Yoitsu.  This story features several action scenes and much intrigue.  When things get too rough, Holo can transform into a giant wolf when she drinks blood or nibbles on a little wheat.

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How does the beer remind me of that besides the obvious parallel of wheat beer and a wheat goddess?  That this wheat ale is made for winter reminds me that the final destination of the novel is the northern region of Yoitsu.  The fact that paganism proceeds from the father of lies, the devil (Duval in Belgian), and that both paganism and the devil are opposed by the God’s Church–prominent members of which live in abbeys–remind me of how this beer’s viscosity is somewhere between Duval and Weihenstephaner.  Holo herself is a very vibrant and unique character, as Winter Cheers is a vibrant and unique beer.

Too late did I realize that I should have used a straight pour. :(

Too late did I realize that I should have used a straight pour. 😦

3) Lancaster Brewery’s Winter Warmer

Here’s a proper winter warmer!  (It is also better served at room temperature–or at least not ice cold.)  High in alcohol at 8.9% ABV and strong in malt bill, this robust beer helps one relax during the winter months.  Potent dark chocolate bitterness almost suppresses the hints of apple and cherry.  That some of its proceeds go to support the Wolf Sanctuary of Pennsylvania show its connection to wolves.

The novel reminiscent of this beer hit me like a sack of bricks: Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.  The dark chocolate bitterness reminds me of the nihilism running through the novel.  This almost suppresses the fact that life has meaning, but that meaning is still perceptible–as the dark chocolate of the beer cannot totally efface the fruity notes.  The dark black color with a reddish hue around the edges reminds me that the book began with the black and bloody deed of murder.  This same hue can be found in Russian Imperial stouts, which forms the final connection.

C&P

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On the Necessity of a Writer to Write

I had the pleasure of reading through the notebook which contained the grand majority of my posts written since Christmas.  Looking over them gave me a definite pleasure, as looking over one’s past accomplishments does.  My firm hope is to fill many more notebooks in the same manner; to which end, I have purchased five more Clairefontaine notebooks.

Painting of Dostoyevsky

Painting of Dostoyevsky

Which brings me to the question of why I bother to write so many articles, especially those posts which have only the slightest chance of drumming up interest: posts on old anime, obscure old authors, and unpopular figures in American history.  Part of it has to do with my love of the Great Conversation (n.b. the kind between authors, not the one held in purgatory), the delight of sharing what I know, the delight of someone revealing my ignorance, the joy of hitting the sublime, and the happiness of knowing that my words made someone else happy.  But, there is also a negative impetus on my writing: melancholy, envy, and misanthropy start to darken my soul if I do not write–especially if I do not write artfully.  Here’s a certain proof of the artistic temperament: one can neither be charitable, content, or unselfish unless they get their art out of their head and onto the page.

Philosophy, religion, and human nature--the components of the Great Conversation.  All of them are found in Plato.

Philosophy, religion, and human nature–the components of the Great Conversation. All of them are found in Plato.

Melancholy seems to be the primary affliction of artists and writers alike.  The only ones who avoid it are those who write or paint to the fullest powers of their ken.  For example, has one ever heard of Shakespeare becoming melancholy?  On the other hand, writers with stretches of time where they do not produce are those most prone to insanity or melancholy: Hemingway, Cowper, Hesse, etc.  Though, I have no doubt that the hatred showered on Hesse by the militant German public in WWI for his pacifism produced the need for Hesse to be admitted into an asylum and subjected to shock therapy.  (Does the latter really work?)

Herman Hesse

Herman Hesse

This brings me to another curious feature of writers: the need to be praised.  As Mark Twain once wrote: “I can live on a good compliment two weeks with nothing else to eat.”  This is a great weakness, as I often find myself anxious about whether a piece has been well received.  Instead of rolling up the time with vexation or allowing praise to puff up my ego, writers should simply busy their minds on the next task.  But in our defense, how else will we know whether we have written something worthwhile or need to go back to the drawing board?  If all the lights go on, an electrician knows he has done a good job; if there are no leaks, the plumber is satisfied; and if the beer is flavorful and refreshing, the brewer has a smile on his face.  When the last word is placed on the page, a writer is happy because the work is done.  But, many questions still swirl in the writer’s head: will no lights go one in readers’ minds?  Is the logic and plot rather full of holes?  Will there be a smile on the reader’s face at the end of it?

Why do my dear readers writer?

Christian Mihai: A New Joseph Conrad?

Those of you who follow Cristian Mihai’s blog, know that he recently made his work Jazz free for download.  This counts as his breakout novel.  Without anything to lose, I decided that I would give a current author a try.  (Looking at my reading list reveals how hesitant I am to read the works of the living.)  From reading Mihai’s blog, I expected a work of quality.  My disenchantment with contemporary literature made that the limit of my expectations.

As it turned out, I was blown away by this stunningly complex and wonderfully written piece.  The writing felt as if some inimitable combination of Fitzgerald and Hemingway.  The novel’s vision seemed to combine a Scholastic focus on happiness with a Conradian or Dostoyevskian knowledge of the fallen nature of humanity despite a drive for nobility.  One felt as if one were reading about real people, yet on an elevated level and vividly alive.  Yes, you’ve read this passage correctly: we have here an utterly unique young novelist, who’s well worth reading.

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Jazz follows a young man named Chris, who has had the misfortune of having Cupid incite love in him for a girl named Amber.  Formerly, this girl was the fiancée of Chris’s cousin Jay; but, following a rather squalid dissolution of this relationship, she flees New York City for Paris.  Chris follows her hither to discover that he has taken up with a new boyfriend called Jacques.  This beginning leads to a riveting psychological tale written in beautiful style.  Many native English novelists have less exciting prose style than this Romanian–hence my calling him a new Joseph Conrad.

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I could not put the book down for the first six chapters, at which point errands called me away before I could finish it in a second sitting.  The mesmerizing quality of Jazz is especially due to the fast-paced and vivid style of Mihai.  It pays special attention to the characters’ expressions and actions–rather like what one finds in Hemingway.  But, the action is always fleshed out by the narrator’s thoughts and interior struggles á la Fitzgerald.  The effect is most compelling, and Jazz can easily withstand several readings.

My only hope is that Mihai continues to fascinate his present readers and manages to reach an ever wider audience.  I now find myself eager to shell out money for his other works!

Parisian Painting

Crime & Punishment and Confession

Some make the common remark that they are unimpressed when they hear of youths reading difficult works, because children and adolescents cannot understand all the intricacies of the works they read.  I, as one of those youths, would always respond that understanding something is better than understanding nothing at all.  For example, it is better to understand the Pacific Ocean to the degree wading around the shore allows than simply to know that there somewhere exists an ocean named Pacific.

Web-Sonia-and-Raskolnikov

And so, I gained a surface understanding of the novel Crime and Punishment around the age of 13 or 14.  I followed what the novel told me: Raskolnikov felt weak and powerless “like a spider.”  And so, he committed the crime to feel good about himself–to feel powerful like Napoleon.  But, reading the work now, I feel like this desire insinuated itself in the place of his true desire: to reveal his inner self to other people.  But, I should perhaps have understood this sooner.  Notes from the Underground is very much related to Crime and Punishment.  And what is the essential nature of that short story?  It’s a confession.

After all, what is Raskolnikov seeking as he wanders the streets of St. Petersburg?  Someone to whom to reveal himself!  And he does meet someone who confesses to him–a drunk whom Raskolnikov meets at a tavern.  The drunk confesses how he constantly disappointed his wife, his family’s situation drove his daughter into prostitution, and he himself, when given a second chance, threw it all away on drink.  He also confesses his hope that Jesus Christ will see sinners and all their wickedness (bearing “the mark of the beast” as he put it) at the apocalypse and forgive them.  This scene probably impressed itself deeply into Raskolnikov’s psyche.

Klodt_Michail_Petrovich_-_Raskolnikov_and_Marmeladov

Yet, it is not until after committing the crime–even while he is still at the scene of his murder–that the desire to confess his crime comes out most strongly.  He wants to confess it to the people knocking outside the apartment door, who know that there is something amiss.  He wants to confess it to the police.  Repressing this desire causes Raskolnikov to become sick with fever, which reminds one of the line from Psalm 32: “I kept it secret and my frame wasted.”

Interestingly, he is summoned to the police station because of an IOU his landlady brought forth against him.  There, he delivers a confession of sorts about how he used to be betrothed to the landlady’s daughter until this young lady died one year ago.  At which point, his landlady became less forgiving of the tardiness of his payments.   After hearing this story, the policemen look upon Raskolnikov with embarrassment and contempt.  People don’t tell about their personal lives to strangers!  At least, not unless they are seated at a bar or suffering from extreme loneliness as Raskolnikov is.

Raskolnikov's Flat by Jeremiah Humphries

Raskolnikov again has a strong desire to confess his crime, but does so neither here nor in the telling scene in Razumihin’s apartment, where his aimless wanderings take him.  Razumihin was his best friend while he studied at university.  Even though Dostoyevsky does not explicitly write it, one feels that Raskolnikov, who remains tight lipped as Razumihin confesses what he has been up to and even gives Raskolnikov a share of the advance on a translation job if he will join him in it, went here to confess.  Especially since Raskolnikov, after leaving the house with the payment and the project, stupidly returns back to the apartment and hands both the money and project back to Razumihin.  To which Razumihin responds: “What the devil did you come here for?”  To confess is the obvious answer, but the cold disdain Raskolnikov received from the police about his more minor confession has made him even more unwilling.

Razumihin, in the translation, basically says “Confound you if you won’t tell me anything!”  And confusion certainly befalls Raskolnikov, as he no longer feels connected to his fellow men and falls into a delirious sickness.  Why?  Because no one knows him as he really is.  No one knows his sins or how weak and crazed he has become.  This delirium lasts until he is at last induced to confess his crime and lays everything bare in the trial.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky Himself

But, confession is so hard!  A particular genius of the Catholic faith is revealed in the confessional, where we reveal that dark part of ourselves which we would be ashamed to have our friends or family know.  By confessing and placing our inner selves on display, both the good and the bad, we become more connected to reality and to others as they confirm what we think, tell us we think amiss, or admonish us to change, which is what Raskolnikov really wanted.