Thursday, February 8, 2018

Book Review: The Wine Lover's Daughter by Anne Fadiman

This past December I was listening to NPR on my way to my morning run.  A funny thing always happens when I do this on the weekend.  I'll start a show on my drive out, and pick up the exact same show when I get back in my car after the run.  Most often this is infuriating; doesn't NPR have more to talk about?  But that morning I was so thrilled to get to hear the story twice.  If you want to hear the story once, twice or more, here is a link.

Anne Fadiman writes about her father, Clifton Fadiman.  Anne's father was a renowned literary critic, editor and radio host who was also a true oenophile.  During his lengthy career, Clifton Fadiman was the editor in chief of Simon & Schuster, the book critic for The New Yorker and co-author of the encyclopedic "The Joys of Wine."  He also hosted a popular radio quiz show, "Information Please!" and was a judge for the Book of the Month Club.

Anne Fadiman may have hesitantly followed in her father's footsteps to become a writer, but she has become a renowned writer as well.  Having first listened to her about the book on the NPR broadcast, I was excited to read the book.  Having the book in hand, I realized that she wrote one of my favorite books, "The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down," a profile of a Hmong refugee family that went on to earn her the National Book Critics Circle Award for nonfiction.

Reading Anne's recollections of growing up immersed in wine culture is funny and insightful.  Her father was an intelligent and worldly man who loved good wine.  From a young age she sampled extraordinary wines around the family dinner table and at events.  Her father loved to share his knowledge and his wines with his family and friends, and Anne had a great education in the wines of the world, especially Burgundy and Bordeaux.

While many of us would love to have that exposure to great wines and knowledge, Clifton's daughter has a bittersweet relationship to wine.  While it reminds her of her father and her past, she herself does not really like to drink much wine.  As a science lover who also likes to uncover the mysteries of our senses, Anne Fadiman's exploration of flavor, taste and personal preference takes her to into researcher's labs, to wine bars for tastings, and to studying tongue maps.  These exercises are quite enlightening, and I think give her a perspective on herself in relation to and separate from her father.

As happens to all of us, Clifton Fadiman ages during the book, and his daughter describes the changes in him and in their relationship.  But his love of wine is unwavering.  While in his final days he does become a fan of Guinness, his relationship with wine is constant.  After his death, his daughter pieces together much of his adult life from what she learns in his Cellar Book.  As she said, it was like finding a sheaf of old love letters.  From that mismatched collection of documents, she found vivid memories of his past.

This book was very well written, and engagingly explores a father-daughter relationship from the daughter's perspective.  This daughter fortunately knows how to write.  While we may all have our own relationships with parents, children and wine that we need to contemplate, it is very interesting to get Anne Fadiman's perspective on her relationships to parents, children and wine.  In case my review prompts interest, here's a link to the book.

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