Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Christine Sismondo

Christine Sismondo is a writer and lecturer in Humanities at York University in Toronto. She has written numerous articles about film, literature, drinking, and vice, as well as the book Mondo Cocktail, a narrative history of cocktails.

Her new book is America Walks into a Bar: A Spirited History of Taverns and Saloons, Speakeasies and Grog Shops.

Her reply to my recent query about what she was reading:
Like everyone else, I’m sure, I’ve got this list of big books I’ve never read but feel I should have. This year, aside from a couple of new releases like My Korean Deli and Blood, Bones and Butter (both of which I’d recommend, the latter ever so slightly more), I decided to finally tackle Silent Spring, The Monk and The Fountainhead.

What I discovered, aside from Rachel Carson’s incredible eloquence, was how effective the rhetoric of personifying nature could be. I now understand exactly why Silent Spring re-shaped our legislation and the way we think about the environment.

I didn’t know what to expect from The Monk but was pleased to find that, while a little long, it was every bit the salacious page-turner I was told to expect. And, since I taught it for a Gothic Horror class, I got to really delve into the anti-Catholicism, something that interests me, in that it intersects with bars in America. In the 19th century, the most feared and vilified bars were those frequented by recent Irish and German immigrants, many of whom were Catholic. I’m pleased to say The Monk can be read as a tract against hypocrisy in religions of all denominations.

The most curious of the three, however, was The Fountainhead. I read it (or most of it, at least) because I laughed when somebody told me that book was important to him. Then I realized he wasn’t joking and that, I had dismissed Ayn Rand based solely on other people’s opinions. Surprisingly, I didn’t detect the homophobia I was expecting to be offended by and found the rape scene to be less shocking than its critics made it out to be. And I’m not one of those people who’ll tell you that I don’t really think of myself as a feminist. I’m a feminist – through and through. I wasn’t offended politically, either and, it seems to me, there are merits in aspects of both the philosophies she espouses and those she critiques. In the end, I lost patience with the repetition and obviousness of the whole thing.

What was fascinating, however, were the conversations sparked when people saw what I was reading. Many asked if it was my “first time,” then as much as congratulated me on my choice to change my life and join the club. Some told me, enthusiastically, how important a book it was to them. Which all gave me an idea for a new project: I think I might carry Rand around with me everywhere for a year or two and see where it leads me. Best conversation starter ever.
Visit Christine Sismondo's blog, and learn more about America Walks into a Bar at the Oxford University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: America Walks into a Bar.

--Marshal Zeringue