Friday, January 26, 2018

The Wine Lover's Daughter: A Memoir

In The Wine Lover’s Daughter, Anne Fadiman examines – with all her characteristic wit and feeling – her relationship with her father, Clifton Fadiman, a renowned literary critic, editor, and radio host whose greatest love was wine. An intellectual and public personality, Clifton Fadiman was perhaps best known as a literary critic for The New Yorker magazine. Pop culture enthusiasts know him as the weekly host of Information, Please, which later spawned an annual Almanac. Fadiman's witticisms and sayings were frequently printed in newspapers and magazines. "When you reread a classic, you do not see more in the book than you did before, you see more in you than there was before," was one of the better known. Fadiman became a prime example of the "witty intellectual" and if you remember those “Book of the Month” mail order clubs… you can thank Fadiman for establishing that good ol’ pastime.

Anne’s book arrived in my mail box this week and like many of those 250-page memoirs that are overshadowed by the tens of thousands of books available on library shelves, this one is worthy of your time and attention. In full disclosure, I was partly responsible for the contents of this book. When Anne’s daughter contacted me, assisting her mother with this book, seeking information about her grandfather’s professional career, I mailed complimentary copies of my book on Information, Please, published many years ago by Bear Manor Media in Oklahoma. Hence the reason why the complimentary, autographed copy arriving at my door.
This book documents the personal side of Clifton Fadiman, his appreciation of wine – along with a plummy upper-crust accent, expensive suits, and an encyclopedic knowledge of Western literature – which was an essential element of his escape from lower-middle-class Brooklyn to swanky Manhattan. But wine was not just a class-vaulting accessory; it was an object of ardent desire. The Wine Lover’s Daughter traces the arc of a man’s infatuation from the glass of cheap Graves he drank in Paris in 1927; through the Château Lafite-Rothschild 1904 he drank to celebrate his eightieth birthday, when he and the bottle were exactly the same age; to the wines that sustained him in his last years, when he was blind but still buoyed, as always, by hedonism.
Clifton Radioman
Along the way, this book educates you with the basic appreciation of fine wine. After Fadiman sampled a glass, he once remarked how wine lived “a triple life: one in the mouth, another in the course of slipping down the gullet, still another, a beautiful ghost, the moment afterward.” As Anne revealed, her father was a lousy driver and a two-finger typist, but he could open a wine bottle as deftly as any swain ever undressed his lover.
Along the way this book provides us with the reminder that not all greats are destined to perfection of the basic tasks that we take for granted and assume everyone is capable of performing. After all, we ourselves generate fallacy and live within its shadows. Whether we discover something new about ourselves or a gentle reminder to forgive and forget the fallacies of others, perfection is rarely a word to brand about… and the true reason why memoirs are a full-course meal for the wise. Wine is the spine of this touching memoir; the life and character of Anne Fadiman’s father, along with her relationship with him and her own less ardent relationship with wine, are the flesh. The Wine Lover’s Daughter is a poignant exploration of love, ambition, class, family, and the pleasures of the palate by one of the finest essayists. Anne may not have inherited her father's love of wine, but she most definitely has his gift for writing and love of all things literacy. 

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