While looking for something completely different, I happened to find this wonderful picture of Samuel Beckett.
There’s something about that untouched glass of red wine that looks utterly inviting and enticing, and you know it’s in Paris, and looking at it, I think it might be the best-tasting, most inspiring glass of wine in the whole history of the world. You think I’m exaggerating?
And I began to wonder if I could find pictures of my other “favorite” authors with a drink in front of them. Since my favorite (and I know it’s a dodgy term) authors include Borges, Kafka and Pynchon this was clearly not going to be an absolute easy task. Since the list also includes Chandler, Kerouac, Burroughs, Ballard and Christopher Hitchens, it might in part seem like shooting drunken fish in a barrel, but all in all, it wasn’t quite as straightforward as I’d expected. Hitchens admittedly was easy:
But Kerouac was surprisingly hard. OK, I was just image-searching the Internet, not trawling through library archives, but I had the feeling I’d seen loads of pictures of Jack with a drink in his hand. Maybe so, but I can’t find them now. The best I can do is the one below. I guess it’s hard liquor in that little cup. And note the pipe.
Raymond Chandler proved surprisingly difficult too. He’s seldom photographed without a pipe or cigarette, and quite often he’s holding a cat (a good standby prop for author portraits), but no sign of the office bottle, a martini or a gimlet. However, there is this scarcely improvable one, sitting between Mr. and Mrs. Anthony Blond, a position in which you’d definitely need a drink.
No problem with finding a picture of Burroughs holding a drink, though it’s rather easier to find one of him holding gun. And we all know how well guns and drink went together in Burroughs's life.
And I did find this gorgeous picture of Borges and Ballard; plenty of bottles in the background, and Ballard clearly has a drink in his hand, though admittedly Borges doesn’t.
I can see why certain authors might think it’s bad for their image to be seen with a drink in their hand, though others of course think it’s more than fine. Ernest Hemingway ran the gamut of guns, drink and cats, sometimes more than one at a time.
And what about female authors? I imagine they might might be even less willing to be photographed booze in hand, even if they have some reputation for enjoying a drink, even for writing about it. Dorothy Parker for instance, always looks amazingly prim in her photographs. This is the best I can come up with:
Although whenever an actress plays Dorothy Parker on screen or stage, a drink is a ubiquitous prop. Here’s Jennifer Jason Leigh in Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle.
As for some of my other fave raves: Joan Didion – no, she looks like she’d keel over if she ever had so much as a glass of sherry, though there are many, many pictures with cigarettes. Angela Carter, Renata Adler, Lydia Davis: no boozy picture that I can find. No cigarettes or guns either, though Lydia Davis is often seen with a cat. So thank heavens (in so many ways) for Deborah Eisenberg. I can’t say that I’ve found zillions of pictures of the divine Ms. E staggering around, gin bottle in hand, but there is this deeply wonderful picture of her: drink in one hand, Wallace Shawn in the other (so to speak), he in turn being a writer who’s obviously unafraid to be seen with a drink in his own hand. Hurrah.
Is this connection between booze and writing important? Well, it does seem that many a writer likes a drink. Of course many a plumber or carpenter likes a drink too, but writers get to write about it, and then their biographers write about it again. There’s a new book out by Olivia Laing, titled The Trip to Echo Spring: Why Writers Drink; it's about Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, Carver, Cheever, Berryman and Fitzgerald.
As for why writers drink, well a million words probably won’t answer the question, but there are some fairly wise one here from Blake Morrison writing about the book in the Guardian: “Why do writers drink? Why does anyone drink? From boredom, loneliness, habit, hedonism, lack of self-confidence; as stress relief or a short-cut to euphoria; to bury the past, obliterate the present or escape the future. If Olivia Laing's entertaining book fails to come up with a simple answer, that's because there isn't one.”