B Is For Beer by Tom Robbins

B Is For Beer by Tom Robbins. (2009) French title: B comme bière. Translated by François Happe.

Robbins_beerI recently realized that there’s no French word to say teetotaler. I wonder why. Because it’s a wine country? Because it used to be a Catholic country with wine at mass? Because alcohol has never been prohibited? I don’t have a clue, I only know we don’t have a word to describe someone who doesn’t drink alcohol.

As a matter of fact, I don’t drink wine or beer because I don’t like the taste of them. Don’t ask me how I survive in wine country without drinking any of it –imagine me enduring wine tasting at the Hospices de Beaune, standing beside friends and waiting for the boring thing to end—or how I survived being a student in a city where a street is renamed Rue de la bière because it’s the local Temple Bar. So, when I saw that B Is For Beer by Tom Robbins promised to explain beer to children, I thought it was meant for me. At last I’d know what the fuss was all about!

Here’s the first paragraph:

Have you ever wondered why your daddy likes beer so much? Have you wondered, before you fall asleep at night, why he sometimes acts kind of “funny” after he’s been drinking beer? Maybe you’ve even wondered where beer comes from, because you’re pretty sure it isn’t from a cow. Well, Gracie Perkel wondered those same things.

Gracie is almost six and she wonders what this mysterious beverage the adults drink is all about. Her father doesn’t volunteer but her Uncle Moe starts explaining and even promises to take her to visit the Redhook brewery. When Uncle Moe lets her down and the visit is cancelled, she’s very angry and steals a beer can in the fridge. She drinks it, gets drunk and sick and the Beer Fairy appears to her. The Fairy will take her to the beer country to explain to Gracie how beer is made and how it is consumed. Follows a fantasy journey to a fantasy land.

Tom Robbins is funny in many aspects. He has a funny mind and a funny style. For example, the Perkels, like the writer himself, live in Seattle. Even here in France we know it’s a rainy city. Here’s how Tom Robbins decribes rains in Seattle:

Do you know about drizzle, that thin, soft rain that could be mistaken for a mean case of witch measles? Seattle is the world headquarters of drizzle, and in autumn it leaves a damp gray rash on everything, as though the city were a baby that had been left too long in a wet diaper and then rolled in newspaper. When there is also a biting wind, as there was this day, Seattle people sometimes feel like they’re trapped in a bad Chinese restaurant; one of those drafty, cheaply lit places where the waiters are gruff, the noodles soggy, the walls a little too green, and although there’s a mysterious poem inside every fortune cookie, tea is invariably spilt on your best sweater.

The whole book is full of humorous descriptions, witty comments about humanity and its attraction to beer. The Beer Fairy shows the good and the bad about beer, subtly recommending moderation. Everything in life is about balance and not taking yourself too seriously. I had a wonderful time with that book. I read it in one sitting, an evening I needed distraction. It’s a joyful fairytale that will take you to another world. Tom Robbins has a unique angle on things, seeing fun in little details and creating a plausible Beer Fairy. He brings back your childhood, a time when you loved to imagine these hidden worlds or that there was a little man working a switch button to put light in the fridge when you open it.

Beer_Robbins

I have B Is For Beer in French and the translation is outstanding. François Hoppe managed to translate the puns in a very convincing way. It must have been complicated sometimes to find something equivalent without betraying the original text.

It’s the perfect book to pick while traveling or in-between two serious books or before visiting Ireland or Belgium but I’m afraid it didn’t change my mind. I still can’t swallow beer. 🙂

PS: Something else, for non-European readers. In this book, you’ll read “In Italy and in France, a child Gracie’s age could walk into an establishment, order a beer, and be served”. In case you’d take this seriously, don’t, because it’s not true. You need to be 18 to drink alcohol and it’s forbidden to sell alcohol to a minor, even in a supermarket.

  1. April 7, 2015 at 2:54 am

    Probably not for me. The author’s books have never had much appeal for me but I know he has a large fan base.

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    • April 8, 2015 at 10:12 pm

      Gus van Sant or not, I didn’t like the movie Even Cowgirls Get the Blues which was made out of Robbins’s book. But I wonder how how style could be adapted to the screen. Maybe the film is lacking.
      Have you seen it?

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  2. April 7, 2015 at 7:51 am

    But a friend of mine who lives in Seattle explained that the summers are better than in England usually, so … there’s always room for worse!
    My children think alcohol tastes vile and is boring as well, so we’ll see how long that will last…

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    • April 8, 2015 at 10:09 pm

      He’d probably say that August is better than in San Francisco. There’s always worse somewhere else.

      I don’t think my children have ever tasted wine. They’re not attracted to alcohol. So far.

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  3. April 7, 2015 at 10:17 am

    You don’t like wine?! Oh my, now you tell me! Seriously though, the humour sounds good here. Do you think your children will read it?

    Oh, I see you’re reading Where There’s Love, There’s Hate! I hope you’re enjoying it (one of my faves from last year).

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    • April 8, 2015 at 10:07 pm

      I didn’t think to lend it to my children but that’s a good idea.
      I enjoy Where There’s Love, There’s Late. I bought it after reading your review. It’s OOP in France but I got a used copy. (an old one, the price is in francs! and the cover is ugly)

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  4. April 7, 2015 at 11:19 am

    I am going to get around to reading this.

    As you know I am really into craft beer as well as the culture. The advice about moderation is good. For all my talk I rarely drink more then one beer a day. I am a big believer in quality over quantity.

    The book also sounds very funny.

    Thanks for the terrific review Emma.

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    • April 8, 2015 at 10:06 pm

      I thought about you when I read this. It’s light, fun and as bubbly as the beverage.

      Like

  5. April 8, 2015 at 2:23 pm

    Maybe I should read this one too because I can relate so well to what you said about being the only teetotaler in a group. I don’t drink wine, beer or anything containing alcohol either (for very much the same reasons as you – I even find the smell disgusting) and it always makes me feel like kind of an alien stranded among creatures whose habits I can’t even remotely understand ;-).

    It’s interesting that there’s no French word for teetotaler. In German we say “Antialkoholiker” or “Abstinenzler”. Despite all it’s almost a sacrilege to be one in Austria!

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    • April 8, 2015 at 10:05 pm

      You don’t drink beer in Austria? That’s about as bad as not drinking wine in France, isn’t it? 🙂
      So, there’s a word for teetotaler in German. I’ve heard there’s one in Dutch too. (no Dutch courage for them!)

      I wonder if there’s a word in Italian or in Spanish. Any Italian or Spanish speaker around here?

      Like

      • April 9, 2015 at 2:22 pm

        No, in fact there are quite many people in Austria who don’t like beer and it’s generally accepted not to want to drink one. It could be different in Bavaria…

        As a matter of fact, Austria is an increasingly renowned wine country and, of course, Schnaps has quite a tradition here. So not drinking any alcohol altogether is a problem. It’s part of our party culture which can be summarised as “no fun without getting at least a little drunk”. I hate that!

        Sorry, if this is a bit off-topic because it has nothing to do with the book.

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        • April 14, 2015 at 8:01 pm

          I’ve heard about Austrian wineyards even if I don’t drink wine. (I’ll be in Graz this summer, btw) Wine is like football, even if you don’t like it, you always end up knowing a bit about it because it’s such a common topic in conversations and in the media.

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  6. April 8, 2015 at 3:49 pm

    I sympathize as well. While I do drink occasionally I often don’t and it always takes a lot of explaining. You almost have to excuse yourself. But it’s not a book for me.

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    • April 8, 2015 at 10:01 pm

      I know what you mean. I’m lucky people drink less wine than before at business lunches. It saves the explanation and sometimes the zzzzzz discussion about wine (sorry Jacqui!)

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    • April 9, 2015 at 2:11 pm

      Oh yes, the explaining is such a tough part of not drinking… but remarks like “oh, why don’t you try? Just one glass. Don’t be a spoilsport” use to drive me crazy! Not drinking alcohol definitely isn’t understood nor accepted in Austria. Luckily, it’s getting better slowly. 🙂

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  7. April 13, 2015 at 4:10 pm

    “…or how I survived being a student in a city where a street is renamed Rue de la bière because it’s the local Temple Bar.” I laughed when I read that – glad it made such an impression on you!

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    • April 14, 2015 at 7:54 pm

      Why am I not surprised to see you react to that sentence? Well, I drank soft drinks on the rue de la bière but didn’t escape to have my head immersed in beer as a bizutage, which roughly means ragging according to the dictionary.

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  8. April 13, 2015 at 5:17 pm

    It sounds fun, but possibly a little cutesy for me. I’ve had friends who didn’t drink, in the UK some seem to find it almost a personal insult when someone declines a drink which is bizarre. Sounds the same in Austria.

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    • April 14, 2015 at 7:47 pm

      I had to look up “cutesy” and I don’t think it applies to this as the characters are not exactly live in the Care Bears’ world. There’s an edge to the children fairytale.

      In France also some feel almost insulted if you refuse a drink. It’s like you’re refusing to socialize. (although the word socialize doesn’t have an equivalent in French)

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  1. December 29, 2015 at 11:29 pm

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