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Wednesday Food: Eat the Word

This post marks the first anniversary of Wednesday Food, here at the home for the heteronomous.  I thought it would be nice to pay a tribute to the written word, and more specifically, to the best book choices for bars and restaurants.

It is not so rare an occasion that I find myself desiring a pint on my own.  Whatever the circumstances– companions are occupied, solitude is desired, or maybe the fridge is just fresh out of drink– I relish the moment of saddling up at a quiet bar (preferably dive) with a book and a beer.

If you have the luxury of choice, rather than the obligatory translation or course reading, the most important criterion is resilience in the face of interruption.  Because you’re not in the library there are any number of factors that will distract you from your material so it is best that the reading in question not require your most committed attention.  Short stories, essays, poetry and plays are all excellent written forms for public places.  Anything addressing the subject of food or drink is befitting,  comedic writing is a favorite contender, as it improves the social atmosphere.  And finally, found materials– newspapers and magazines– are an obvious and convenient choice.

My recommendations in the above stated categories are as follows…

Short stories: Flappers and Philosophers, F. Scott Fitzgerald, the first thing I ever read alone in a bar (on St. Patrick’s Day to boot); Dubliners, James Joyce, because you would want to avoid towing Ulysses to a bar.  Melville, too, has a brilliant short story collection.

Essays: Consider the Lobster, DFW.  I always enjoy Benjamin’s Unpacking My Library, with a libation in hand.

Poetry: I’m a bit of a Rilke fan and could read him just about anywhere, try Letters to a Young Poet; Millay is also well suited to low light and bad behavior.  I would like to recommend the Brothers Grimm here, as they seem nearer to this category than the others.

Plays: Picasso at the Lapin Agile, Steve Martin, is a natural choice; if you can enjoy a beer garden on a hot day grab Tennessee Williams on your way out; I would say anything Mamet but the brilliance of the dialogue might be less effective if the bar in question is playing say, Shakira (but you would never go to that kind of bar, would you?).

Food/ Drink: My immediate thought is Everyday Drinking, Kingsley Amis, it’s cheeky, it’s dated, and you trust the guy knows his sauce stuff.  Randy Mosher’s Tasting Beer, is an excellent guide and entertaining read– though you’d look like an ass with it at any place like the MaproomRoast Chicken, Simon Hopkinson, is a nice memoirs/ recipe collection.

Comedy: David Sedaris will treat you right in any publication, at any venue.  I am currently reading Round Ireland with a Fridge, Tony Hawks, and while it isn’t the most polished piece of prose, it’s certainly worth a laugh (especially if you’re familiar with the Irish.)

Newspaper/ Magazine: If you are so lucky as to enjoy an establishment where the Onion is distributed, then you’re set.  Local independent papers suffice.

Any further recommendations would be greatly appreciated!


December 16, 2009 - Posted by | Wednesday Food


  1. i think it’s totally alien experience to me, i never read anything in the bar or any other eating place, always just eat and go
    today in the cafeteria an Indian lady was sitting there for 15-20 min just staring at me eating, maybe she had to wait for something, i would feel myself very uncomfortable sitting in the cafeteria not eating

    Comment by read | December 16, 2009

  2. Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery.”

    Comment by Jake | December 17, 2009

  3. I am inspired. I shall make it my New Year challenge to read alone at the bar…..hmm. Good book title? “Alone at a Bar”.

    Comment by Vanessa | December 17, 2009

  4. “Endgame” and “A Streetcar Named Desire” should not be bound together. Please liberate them.

    Comment by John Emerson | December 17, 2009

  5. Barthelme’s Forty Stories would probably make good for good bar reading. The stories are short, but really very engaging, which makes for a good reading experience even in a fairly loud environment.

    My local independent newspaper has gotten really pretty sad and terrible. Even the tv/ts escort ads are lacking these days.

    Comment by stras | December 17, 2009

  6. Sorry John, I like to watch them squirm.

    Comment by ebolden | December 17, 2009

  7. any liebling but especially the topical “between meals”

    Comment by ed | December 17, 2009

  8. i very much appreciate that the photo above corresponds to the recommendations. i have none to add at the moment, though, as i almost am always reading something required when out of doors.

    Comment by sarah expletive | December 18, 2009

  9. I read a good chunk of The Yiddish Policeman’s Union in Intelligentsia today, laughing out loud and then looking around to see if I seemed to be annoying anyone by laughing out loud, and being disappointed that I wasn’t.

    Comment by K-sky | December 18, 2009

  10. Many thanks for recommendations Jake, stras, ed and K-sky.

    Comment by ebolden | December 18, 2009

  11. no one belongs here more than you by miranda july (short stories)

    it only works if you enjoy creepy but cute, which i do. i’m not sure how it’d fare in a bar environment with strangers to spy on – i’d like to think it’d go well.

    Comment by sarah expletive | December 19, 2009

  12. Just last night I had to clear out of my apartment for a few hours to give my housemate and her boyfriend time and space to have their Christmas.

    I was MORE than happy to spend a few hours alone in a bar, this is why Erika and I get along so much, I love saddling up to a bar alone and just people watch.

    Since this was a spontaneous choice to leave the house I didn’t bring a book, but if I had it would have been “Alone in the Kitchen with and Eggplant” edited by Jenni Ferrari-Alder which I am currently re-reading and I think would be a perfect alone in a bar book. Also a great guide to dining and cooking alone for those who need a little more encouragement to try such a venture!

    Comment by abarker | December 20, 2009

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