Booze and literature go together like... well, like booze and literature. Without alcohol, many of the greatest and most life-changing novels in literary history would have never even been written; book release parties would be even more boring than they already are; and Ernest Hemingway would have never punched Wallace Stevens in the face. Alcohol is the cause of and solution to all the literary world's problems, and God bless it for that.
But alcohol doesn't just play an important role in the creation of literature; it can also be a great asset for the reader. I'm not necessarily suggesting that you pound some Knob Creek and then give Gravity's Rainbow the old college try; but sometimes, settling in for a night of reading with a delicious glass of wine in hand can turn the entire experience up a notch. Besides, what else are you going to do while drinking wine? Make pleasant conversation with strangers whom you find sexually appealing? Pshaw.
But picking out the perfect book to tipple through is a complicated process (and yes, I do say that as someone who read the first few pages of The Stand after making my way through most of a bottle of Two Buck Chuck; I thought it was a book about motorcycles). With that in mind, we've spotlighted a few wines below and the books they pair best with. I must note here that although I am a lover of both wines and books, in the world of wine, I am merely a thirsty amateur. So if I flub a detail about the La Rioja Alta Gran Reserva 904, I am sorry in advance, Horrible Wine Snobs (I am not really sorry and you know it). So drink up and read on, my friends. As Charles Baudelaire (a man known for giving outstanding lifestyle advice) once said, “Get drunk and stay that way."
Pairs Well With: CivilWarLand in Bad Decline by George Saunders
Did you know that the pinot noir grape is one of the most difficult grapes to properly cultivate? One small cold snap shows up during the growing season and, screw you, you’re stuck drinking Sam Adams this year because there’s no grape harvest. Similarly, Saunders’ first story collection demands a little extra effort from you —a faith in the author that allows you to jump headfirst into a fully realized alternate reality that Saunders presents as already in progress. But like cultivating the delicious pinot noir grape, putting the extra effort into Saunders' first book pays off — by the time you hit the third story, "The Wavemaker Falters," you are in with Saunders and his slightly-off universe of commerce and sadness 4 life. And, honestly, loosening up with a generous pour or two will make the transition into Saunders' decrepit dream worlds that much easier.
Pairs Well With: Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Chardonnay is the most popular white wine in America because it is damn delicious. People will use words like "oak-y" and "terroir" to try to make it sound like something you need a degree to understand, but really, chardonnay is a wine that you can drink and enjoy every damn day without a whit of background info on, because it's just good. Likewise, some people act like you need a literary degree to enjoy Nabokov; those people are also totally BSing you. Nabokov is like chardonnay — a rich, flavorful treat that you don't a certificate of specialized study to enjoy. Nabokov and chardonnay belong to everybody, and don't let any goofus who wrote their master's thesis on Nabokov's butterflies tell you any different. The smoothness of chardonnay pairs particularly well with this book, where Nabokov's smooth way with words will sweep you up into a story about some quite unthinkable crimes.
Pairs Well With: Gossip Girl by Cecily von Ziegesar
The effervescence of prosecco and other sparkling wines is the perfect match for all the light-hearted sex scandals, blackmail, and other juicy emotional horrors that befall the girls of Constance Billard Academy. Don't try to fight it —you loved these books as a teenager, and the light, airy feeling of a prosecco drunk is the exact right thing to help you drop your intellectual pretensions and get swept away once more by a bunch of rich teenagers arguing about boners. Just try not to get too hung up on wondering why all these 16-year olds get to drink tons of real champagne, while you have to settle for one of those Sofia Coppola wine-in-a-can thingies.
Pairs Well With: Claire DeWitt and the Bohemian Highway by Sara Grann
I think that riojas are the perfect wine — they're rich, a little sophisticated, and they make you look way cooler than you are when you order them. Sara Grann's Claire DeWitt mystery novels are exactly the same — these tales of a brilliant, strung-out female detective who works on the fringes of society while desperately trying to solve her own personal mysteries are literary, sophisticated, and will make you look cooler than you are when you buy them. But cool factor aside, much like the rioja, these books are fucking delicious — absolutely packed with suspense, expertly drawn characters, and everything else you'd want in a mystery novel. Pop open a bottle of rioja while reading this, and you may, for a moment, feel as louche and cool as Claire DeWitt.
Pairs Well With: The Vast Fields of Ordinary by Nick Burd
The fruity, crisp Riesling is a little bit of a contradiction — it's refreshing, but also sweet! It goes with fish, but roasted vegetables! It's a riddle, wrapped in mystery, inside an enigma! And its many mysteries make it the perfect companion for Nick Burd's slightly surreal YA novel, a coming of age tale that feels like Joan Didion by way of Gregg Araki. And getting a little bit of a sweet wine buzz on will only help you get swept up in the action when things take a turn for the... unusual.
Pairs Well With: The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
It's easy for the uninformed to dismiss things that are considered classic as "boring." Take it from me — I once spent a six year stretch as the most wildly uninformed person on earth, refusing to drink wine because it was "bougie" and refusing to read any books by Jane Austen because I thought they were just novellas about dating and hats (yes, I am currently atoning for that thought and will be for the rest of my life, sorry). I mean, I was at least partially right —some "classics" remain popular just because they're bland and inoffensive, and nobody cares enough to say anything about it. But other things become classic because they're just too brutally awesome to be dismissed — like both parts of this pairing.
Cabernet is a powerful drink. It is strong, intense; basically, a wine not to be F'd with. Edith Wharton is also strong, intense and most definitely not a writer to be F'd with. This book, while less unrelentingly grim than The House of Mirth, still tackles the infinite nothingness at the core of high society, but does it with more charm and less sleeping draught, making it the perfect companion for your total brutal glass of cabernet.
Pairs Well With: Edie by George Plimpton
Stereotyped as the drink of choice for the inexperienced and unsophisticated, this 2012 survey about the personalities of wine drinkers claimed that rosé sippers are "loud," "charming," and obsessed with Facebook (as opposed to red wine drinkers, who are financially stable and intelligent — who sponsored this study? A case of merlot that has achieved sentience?). Likewise, Edie Sedgwick often comes off as the most most stylish but least profound of the personalities that orbited around Andy Warhol's Factory in the '60s. Not a talent in her own right like Lou Reed, Nico, or Candy Darling, Sedgwick is mostly remembered for being really, really ridiculously good-looking and having an edgy haircut. But rosé is actually versatile, refreshing, and goes with everything, and Paris Review co-founder Plimpton's oral history biography of the doomed Pop Art princess will have you aching with genuine empathy for a woman who is most remembered for her cute dresses. Nothing is as it seems, okay? Up is down! Black is white! One of David Foster Wallace's favorite books was Silence of the Lambs ! Cats and dogs, living together! Everything we know is wrong!