[By Nic Lindh on Saturday, 20 February 2021]
I’m pretty sure this is the first book roundup that doesn’t have a single fiction book in it. Seems that for me fiction was one of the casualties of the pandemic—I just can’t concentrate enough to enjoy make-believe right now. Which isn’t to say I didn’t read any fiction.
I am nothing if not pig-headed and this Kindle I paid good money for is not going to just sit there and gather dust, no sir.
But nothing grabbed me enough to finish the novel, and it’s certainly not fair to slam a creative work because my head was in the completely wrong place.
Perhaps the next installment. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.
The McElroy brothers run a stable of successful podcasts, including the flagship My Brother, My Brother and Me.
Everybody Has a Podcast (Except You) covers most aspects of getting started with a podcast, and is written in their expected easy-going, banter-y voices. There’s nothing earth-shaking in here, but the information seems solid and it’s presented very well.
If you’re thinking about starting a podcast, reading this book should be step one. It will save you a lot of time, a lot of deep-dives in weird forums, and a lot of annoying YouTube videos.
I’ve never tasted Pappy Van Winkle bourbon, and I don’t think I ever will. That is, unless something very unexpected happens like I win the lottery.
This is not a big concern for me: I don’t drink a lot of bourbon, so I don’t have the palate to really appreciate what many people have called the best bourbon ever made, and there’s no way I’m spending the energy and ludicrous amount of money required to taste this magic brew.
Pappyland is the story of Julian Van Winkle, heir and curator of the Van Winkle name in bourbon, his life story and his relationships. With his father, with his grandfather, with his wife, and now with his son. And the crushing burden of carrying on and rescuing a family legacy.
It is also about the romance and cold reality of the bourbon industry, and of Kentucky, and by extension about the South.
So there’s a lot going on. Thompson also brings in his own family history and relationship with his late father.
Van Winkle and Thompson represent a whole different idea of masculinity than how I live, drenched in ties to family and place, with raw nerves and high anxiety, and Pappyland sometimes gets uncomfortably close to maudlin.
Which perhaps is appropriate, since one of the arguments Thompson makes is that the myth of bourbon at its heart is about maudlin homesickness.
As the saying goes:
Vodka is for the skinny and scotch is for the strivers and bourbon is for the homesick.
At the end of the book Thompson shoehorns in an info-dump about his own life growing up White and decently well-off in Mississippi and the values he wants to pass on to his daughter:
Being Southern means carrying a responsibility to shake off the comforting blanket of myth and see ourselves clearly. I was bringing a child into this world, and into our long history of trying to do the right thing while benefitting mightily from the wrong thing, and I wanted her to love our home and our family, but to see it clearly and without the nostalgia that so often softens my anger and desire to tear it all down and build a new world in its place.
Pappyland sets very ambitious and laudable goals for itself, but ends up feeling a bit hamfisted and bro-ish. Nevertheless, it’s an interesting addition to the myth of America. And of course, if you’re one of the people who took out a second mortgage for a bottle of Pappy, you’ll want to learn more about the man behind the drink.
Outside England, not-the-author David Mitchell is probably best known for the wonderful Are we the Baddies? sketch, but he’s had a long career in comedy and is always ready to unleash a rant on one of the island nation’s ubiquitous panel shows.
If you are in the market for watching a flustered upper-class British person going off about the small inconveniences of life, David Mitchell is most assuredly your man.
Backstory, as you’d expect, is the story of how he grew up and become what he is, and it’s told with charm and wit and self-awareness.
It’s a quite nice way to avoid the news for a few hours.
John Hodgman is extremely good at being John Hodgman and inhabiting a world of being somewhat famous, which has given him some access to the world of the truly famous.
As usual, he comes across as a smart, affable and well-meaning strange nerd, and reading him is like floating in a warm bath.
Medallion Status isn’t as tight as his previous work, Vacationland, which is totally OK since Vacationland might be the ultimate collection of pudgy, NPR-adjacent stories of White middle age ever written. It’s hard to top.
But his struggles with leveling up on what he calls Beloved Airlines, trying to fit in at a very fame-attractive Los Angeles hotel, and his utter loathing of Donald Trump, makes for worthwhile reading.
Bonus: I didn’t realize his Deranged Millionaire character on the Daily Show was a direct attempt at making fun of Trump, an attempt he gave up on when he realized there was no way to exaggerate and satirize Trump.
If you want to experience the mind of a person of some fame, a person who is a corporalized NPR show, then Medallion State is for you.
Note: The links are Amazon affiliate links. If you purchase through them I get a tiny kickback, which motivates me to keep writing these reviews. It’s appreciated.