Maybe it’s a little late for this, but I need to come clean. Sometimes, I read books written by friends or acquaintances. And then I review them. And then I don’t tell you that I know the author. (But I won’t do it any more, I promise.)
Which is not to say that I’m not honest in my reactions. I’m lucky enough to know some very gifted writers. (And, by the way, I draw the line at blogging about books written by my beloved husband, though they are very good.) It may have happened from time to time that I met someone and read their book and couldn’t think of anything polite to post on the Internet about it. In that case, I would keep silent. But my enthusiasm is always genuine. Some things you can’t fake.
So why am I bringing this up now? I think it’s because Rosie Schaap, whom I have known and admired for years, is such a straight shooter. I enjoyed Drinking with Men, and I would like to borrow, for a few hundred words, Rosie’s directness.
Drinking with Men is a memoir, framed around Rosie’s experiences with liquor. They started early, when as a teenager Rosie would tell fortunes for beer in the MetroNorth bar car, commuting to her New York City psychiatrist appointments. (Sometimes the sophistication of a Fairfield County teenager is breathtaking.) Then at 16, she dropped out of high school and left home to … follow the Grateful Dead. Wow.
But Drinking with Men isn’t primarily about being wild and crazy. Rather, it’s about someone finding her way, bar by bar, into her own skin. The MetroNorth commuters admired Rosie’s smarts. The Deadheads offered unconditional (if scruffy) community. The denizens of her local in North Bennington, VT, took care of her physically — and so on. She learned how to behave in a bar, which is maybe an idealized form of how to behave in life: be respectful, listen, buy a round when it’s your turn, contribute to the conversation, go outside if you feel sick. She learned one of the hard lessons of maturity, which is that nothing lasts forever. She even discusses the delicate issue of why and how it works for a good-looking woman to be a regular at a bar. (I would have liked more of this. Why are most bar regulars men rather than women? Do they tune your femaleness out? Is it a brother-sister thing… until it isn’t?)
The unexpected connection Rosie makes is between bar behavior and spiritual behavior. She is an nondenominational chaplain, and in the dark days following 9/11, she volunteered in that capacity. She found that the best way to help people was: “Don’t push. Don’t preach. Pray with them only if they ask. Make yourself available. Show up. Be present.” Good and bad things will come our way and a bar community at its best can sometimes function as a secular church, a contented family, an informal book club — with booze.