Thursday, January 21, 2010

Garrett Peck

Garrett Peck is a freelance journalist who has written mostly within the alcohol industry trade circles. Based in Washington, D.C., he also regularly conducts tours of historic sites that hold a significant place in the temperance movement in and around the district.

His new book is the recently released The Prohibition Hangover: Alcohol in America from Demon Rum to Cult Cabernet.

Last week I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
Helen Thomas and Craig Crawford, Listen Up, Mr. President: Everything You Always Wanted Your President to Know and Do. I picked this book up at a book fair and got both authors to sign it. Helen Thomas is the dean of the White House press corps, having served as a reporter there since the Kennedy administration. It's an easy read and well-written, serving as a civics lesson and history guide to presidential behavior (both good and bad). They take an especially harsh view of George W. Bush, calling him the worst president of the post-World War II era, a judgment that I personally agree with. At times, the book strays into direct advice for the president himself, such as to work on his listening skills. Those parts of the book seem to be geared toward a single person, rather than a general audience.

Mary Oliver, Our World. My mom gave me this photo album two years ago, and I finally got around to reading it. I wish I picked it up much earlier. It has so much more than just photographs, but short essays on how Mary Oliver, one of America's foremost poets, met her partner Molly Malone Cook and how they shared forty years together, largely in Provincetown. Cook died in 2005. The photos are all Cook's, which Oliver lovingly collected and arranged, each telling a story of their lives together. There are some wonderful stories about Cook; Oliver's simple prose really shines, and she even included several of her poems. This is a treasure chest of a book.

Ken Auletta, Googled: The End of the World as We Know It. I bought this book after giving a talk at the Google corporate campus (the "Googleplex") in Mountain View. Google was probably the company of the decade, and Google has even entered our vocabulary as a verb: to google. Auletta interviewed hundreds of people for his book and got unbelievable access to the company's leaders, as well as to its competitors. It is a business-oriented book, written from the standpoint of a technology journalist. He shows how Google has overturned many an apple cart by building a better mouse trap: a search engine powered by artificial intelligence. This has led to the mass cataloging of the Internet, and created an assumption among consumers that all online content should be free. Auletta's research and writing is first-rate, and he poses many significant questions about Google's impact. But he seems leery of stating his own opinion, which he is well entitled to after spending so much time in his research.

George Taber, In Search of Bacchus: Wanderings in the Wonderful World of Wine Tourism. I had the privilege of meeting Taber at the National Press Club Book Fair, where he and I were signing our respective books. If you remember, Taber was the Time magazine journalist who attended the historic 1976 blind tasting of Napa wines vs. Bordeaux and Burgundy, and event that put Napa on the map. He chronicled this in Judgment of Paris. With In Search of Bacchus, his third book, Taber takes the reader through twelve remarkable and beautiful winemaking regions around the world, from Australia to Mendoza, and from Germany to the Republic of Georgia. It's a first-person account, and though not as detailed as a Fodor's or a Rick Steves', I found myself salivating at many of his descriptions. High on my travel list is Rioja in Spain, which sounds so utterly remarkable for its geography and art, its fabulous architecture, and of course its food and wine.

Steve Hely, How I Became a Famous Novelist. It is a rare day that I read fiction, but I gladly picked up this snarky novel. Written in the first-person, it tells the story of an underachieving novelist whose goal is to write a bestseller so he can get rich and upstage his former girlfriend at her wedding. The anti-hero, Pete Tarslaw, is so groveling and disingenuous that you can't help but like him, even as you grow appalled at his methods and his obvious groping for fame. He writes the dripping Tornado Ashes Club, a formulaic book intended to hit every favorable demographic and maximize sales. My favorite scene has the author watching a touching episode of Oprah, then erupting in tears of rage as he cynically tears apart anything real and genuine. Trust me, he gets his in the end, and as you learn, the book is written from the standpoint of redemption. Writing - even fiction - can be genuine and meaningful.
Visit Garrett Peck's website.

Garrett Peck's best books about Prohibition.

--Marshal Zeringue