Sharing stuff I've learned, and things I've thought about...

The value of the re-read

When I was a young college student, I knew a fellow whose company I enjoyed immensely, which belies the fact that I can’t remember his name. However, one of the discussions/arguments we enjoyed was about the value of accumulating books. Perhaps a victim of the the acquisitive impulse, I dreamed of building an extensive library, while my friend considered a book once consumed a having lost value as a possession. The only valid argument I could make to this was the fact that I have always enjoyed re-reading books.

I display the same behavior with movies. If it’s a well-made movie, or a well-written book, I come to a greater appreciation to the artistry of the works’ creators each time I experience the work again.

With regard to books, I have most recently re-experienced two of James Clavell’s novels, King Rat and Tai-Pan.

King Rat is much the simpler of the two novels, inspired by (but not based on) Clavell’s experience in the Changi Japanese prison camp during WWII. I’m always impressed by the ability of Clavell to keep the reader constantly aware of the ambiguity, and in some cases hypocrisy of the actions and attitudes of the characters in this book. Clavell is highly skilled at spinning a yarn, and at creating characters of some depth that makes the stories very engaging.

Tai-Pan (which sadly – in contrast to King Rat – was very poorly transferred to the film medium) is a much more complex novel, incorporating a broad sweep of British colonial history in Asia, and employs a much larger cast of colorful characters, and a wheels-within-wheels plot.

Since acquiring an e-reader a few years ago, I have started building an e-library of the books that I keep repeatedly returning to. In addition to the two Clavell novels mentioned above, the following are a few of the books that have withstood the test of time, and continue to impress each time I read them:

  • All the King’s Men (Robert Penn Warren)
  • The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (Robert A. Heinlein)
  • A Canticle for Leibowitz (Arthur M. Miller)
  • The Mote in God’s Eye (Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle)
  • A Clear and Present Danger (Tom Clancy)
  • The Stand (Restored edition – Stephen King)

Let’s start things off with a cocktail!!

A couple of years ago, I wondered why I only had a cocktail when out at a bar or restaurant, particularly when I enjoy them so much. So, I started preparing cocktails at home, and Marcy and I enjoy a cocktail once or twice a week.

In the process, I have learned a LOT about cocktails.

The first thing that I came to appreciate is the realization as to what a cocktail is.

A cocktail is a little glass of extremely intense flavor. If you’re a person who doesn’t consider themselves as a “hard liquor” drinker, take a moment to appreciate the next cocktail you’re served. Note that there is a clear distinction between a “cocktail” and a “highball”. While both are “mixed drinks”, a highball is a spiked beverage – orange juice, 7-up, Coca-Cola, cranberry juice, club soda, etc. As such, a highball simply adds the flavor and bouquet of an alchoholic spirit to another beverage. Some of these can indeed be delicious. I’m partial to a Screwdriver made with fresh orange juice, a good splash of lime juice, vodka and served over a lot of crushed ice.

However, for an incomparable gustatory experience, you have to go to a true cocktail, which is a mixture of various flavorings that include at least one alcoholic ingredient.

The alcohol is extremely important from a flavor standpoint. The vapors from the alcohol carry the flavors and aromas up into the nasal passages thus intensifying the flavors. You can make a “Shirley Temple” version of many cocktails, but in addition to the loss of the flavoring of the alcoholic component, you also miss the transport of the intense flavors by the vapors of the alcohol.

One last observation about cocktails in this entry. Cocktails are sipping drinks. The intensity of the flavor is best enjoyed by sipping the cocktail. Scenes you may have seen in some movies with characters tossing off martinis is a terrible waste of a good cocktail, and if you do it more than once, you will get anywhere from a little tipsy to completely smashed depending on how often it’s repeated. On the other hand, a single cocktail, consumed as it should be, will seldom cause any inebriation unless done on a completely empty stomach, and even then, should be only a mild (and not unpleasant) numbing of the upper lip that will pass rather quickly.

So, the point of a cocktail is to enjoy the flavor. There are cheaper and more effective ways to get falling-down drunk if that’s your goal!