Nickles, Sara, & Shacochis, Bob (Eds.) (1994) Drinking, Smoking, & Screwing: Great Writers on Good Times. San Francisco: Chronicle Books. 200 pp.
This anthology of stories, essays, and poems (many of them excerpts from larger works) recalls a time when writers celebrated excess rather than worried about it. So says the excellent introduction by Shacochis. The selections themselves, however, are not all celebratory. Many concern attempts to quit and avoid problems arising from life’s three great pleasures: a martini before and a cigarette after.
Selections range widely, from Mark Twain on what it means to enjoy a cigar, to an acerbic feminist essay by Erica Jong excerpted from Fear of Flying. Most essays are humorous, by authors such as Dorothy Parker, James Thurber, and Art Buchwald. Some are from classic literature, by the likes of Henry James, Anais Nin, and Vladimir Nabokov.
I found that the humor has not worn well over the decades. Times and values have changed so radically in recent years, there is little humor left in jokes about getting drunk, trying not to, or trying to quit smoking. Maybe that’s a worthwhile message from the book: as a culture, we’ve become so health-aware that coy or snide jokes about secret drinking, smoking and screwing are no longer interesting.
As for the screwing part, there are some good essays, but again, because modern culture has become so open, there is nothing that can be written about sex any more that is shocking or even titillating. Everything possible has been written, repeatedly. What’s compelling about the selections concerning sex is not the sex, but the fine writing, such as by Henry James and Vladimir Nabokov. Articles that dwell on body parts and juices for shock value, are flaccid.
The anthology is a light read that lets you sample some fine authors, and if you’re going to sample them, it might as well be on topics that are fun to read.