The Wet and the Dry: A Drinker's Journey

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Selected as a Top Ten Book of the Year by Dwight Garner, New York Times

A ?stylish and engaging?fearlessly honest account? (Financial Times) of man?s love of drink, and an insightful meditation on the meaning of alcohol consumption across cultures worldwide
Drinking alcohol: a beloved tradition, a dangerous addiction, even ?a sickness of the soul? (as once described by a group of young Muslim men in ...

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Selected as a Top Ten Book of the Year by Dwight Garner, New York Times

A “stylish and engaging…fearlessly honest account” (Financial Times) of man’s love of drink, and an insightful meditation on the meaning of alcohol consumption across cultures worldwide
Drinking alcohol: a beloved tradition, a dangerous addiction, even “a sickness of the soul” (as once described by a group of young Muslim men in Bali). In his wide-ranging travels, Lawrence Osborne—a veritable connoisseur himself—has witnessed opposing views of alcohol across cultures worldwide, compelling him to wonder: is drinking alcohol a sign of civilization and sanity, or the very reverse? Where do societies and their treatment of alcohol fall on the spectrum between indulgence and restraint? 
These questions launch the author on an audacious journey, from the Middle East, where drinking is prohibited, to the West, where it is an important—yet perhaps very often a ruinous—part of everyday life. Beginning in the bar of a luxury hotel in Milan, Osborne then ventures to the Hezbollah-threatened vineyards of Lebanon; a landmark pub in London; the dangerous drinking dens on the Malaysian border; the only brewery in the alcohol-hostile country of Pakistan; and Oman, where he faces the absurd challenge of finding a bottle of champagne on New Year’s Eve.  Amid his travels, Osborne unravels the stories of alcoholism in his own family, and reflects on ramifications of alcohol consumption in his own life. 
An immersing, controversial, and often irreverent travel narrative, The Wet and the Dry offers provocative, sometimes unsettling insights into the deeply embedded conflicts between East and West, and the surprising influence of drinking on the contemporary world today.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times - Dwight Garner
There are three reasons Lawrence Osborne's new book…is instantly among the best nonfiction volumes about drinking that we have, and why, if you have a bar, it should be tucked into its corner, near the bitters. The first reason is that Mr. Osborne is a terrific writer…The second…is that Mr. Osborne…is a world citizen, a committed travel writer as well as a novelist…Like a latter-day Evelyn Waugh, he can size up a locale almost at a glance…The third and perhaps the most important argument for this book's excellence within its genre is that it's a political text as well as a sensual one. It arrives with a thesis, namely that a useful way of thinking about East and West, this supposed clash of civilizations, is to think of them as "Wet and Dry, Alcoholic and Prohibited."
Publishers Weekly
The British-born peripatetic novelist and travel writer Osborne has proved himself spectacularly adventurous in previous works (The Forgiven; Bangkok Days; etc.); in his latest outing, he similarly unfurls serious adventures through righteous Muslim lands in search of a drink. Osborne scorns facile observations, especially about himself: he is a connoisseur of self-knowledge, in particular regarding his states of solitary drinking and altered moods. He is also a practiced traveler, and heads to the desiccated Arab lands as a kind of perverse punishment—for example, when he tries (and fails) to score a bottle of champagne on New Year’s Eve in Muscat, Oman, with his Italian lover. Bars are geared to Westerners (“the unclean”) in places like Saudi Arabia and Malaysia only because it was good business, while often, curious Muslims are intercepted upon entering these bars and even punished by caning or thrashing. Osborne elicits some profound and harrowing reflections along the way about the wet and the dry cultures, falling rather cleanly along ideological lines—namely, that being able to drink and enjoy public gathering spaces spells freedom, while being restricted from drinking alcohol, as suggested rather than dictated by the Koran, means being immured in private cells. From Dubai to Beirut, Islamabad to Brooklyn, Osborne’s meditations on fermentation and distillation induce a host of refreshing, taut, timeless unmoorings. (July)
Library Journal
Perceptions and realities of alcohol consumption vary across Islamic nations and differ from Western views. In some locales, even inquiring about alcohol may invite hostility, while in others, such as in Egypt, where beer arguably originated, there are greater degrees of tolerance. Osborne takes a different approach from other authors tracing the popular culture aspects of food or drink who visit a country and meet a few local characters, distilling their brief experiences into a representation of the whole. Instead, he settles into a place, drinking heavily wherever he can and seeking out the underbelly. Interspersed chapters that flash back to the alcoholism in his family and to his younger days as an impoverished barfly in the United States provide contrast. With a seductive leer to the writing, this book will have readers reflecting on drinking culturally and personally.

Verdict The narrow focus of this gritty reflection on alcohol means that it may not fit comfortably with either memoirs or with more general works on beverages. Still, recommended for public libraries.—Peter Hepburn, Coll. of the Canyons Lib., Santa Clarita, CA
(c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kirkus Reviews
A cosmopolitan and prodigious drinker conducts a tour to selected locales where alcohol flows easily and to others where such spirits are strictly forbidden. Peripatetic imbiber Osborne (The Forgiven, 2012, etc.) recounts getting drunk in many places and recalls libations from hospitable venues like his British home, Brooklyn and Sweden. He also discusses arid Islamic precincts like Islamabad and the Bekaa. We visit Cairo, under the Brotherhood, and southern Thailand, where they host Malaysian Muslims seeking sex and whiskey. Osborne makes an ardent, artful contribution to a great body of literature on booze. Though he had difficulty scoring some bubbly for his girlfriend on a New Year's Eve in Muscat, Osborne is still a debonair drinking partner, one who knows the authentic bars and pubs of the West and the wet oases in the parched lands of the Islamic Levant and Orient. Kota, he reports, "was a much nicer city than Sungai Kolok or Hat Yai." In the meyhanes of Istanbul's Istiklal, we learn, you will "down your raki with plates of borek, and slowly realize that you are an alien." Adept of Dionysus and Bacchus, Osborne provides a convivial discourse on how liquor is made and marketed in exotic places. There are thoughts on the history and politics of potent drink and the Muslim antipathy to satanic Western ways. In the bars of the West and the speak-easies of Araby, the author celebrates intemperate alcoholic befuddlement and also the hangover after too many drams of distinctive distillations and fine fermentations, of Pernod, Jim Beam, Cutty Sark and Stoli. For tipplers or teetotalers, an extended essay on drink in some precincts where it is welcome and others where it is criminal--rakish, rich and nicely served.
From the Publisher
“Instantly among the best nonfiction volumes about drinking that we have…Mr. Osborne comes across in The Wet and the Dry as a real human being indeed — a complicated man mixing complicated feelings into fizzy, adult, intoxicating prose.” -New York Times

“In this entertaining travel essay/memoir, [Osborne] combines both of his loves with a combination of sparkling prose and insightful observations…Endlessly fascinating.”- Chicago Tribune

"Mr. Osborne is a superb travel writer, one who, like Evelyn Waugh, can size up a locale at almost a glance. This intoxicating book has political as well as sensual overtones. It’s about how East and West think about alcohol; quite often it’s about one man’s search for his 6:10 p.m. martini in some very unlikely locations."- Dwight Garner, New York Times

“A bracing, brilliant meditation on everything from the universal qualities that make a good bar to the mysteries of vodka…to the pagan worship of Dionysius, an influence still felt in the way we see wine… Relentlessly sharp-minded.”Boston Globe

“Delightfully idiosyncratic.”LA Times

“Entertaining…[Osborne] nimbly parses politics, religion, and the chaotic nature of history itself in relation to drink.”Men’s Journal, a Best Books for Men 2013 selection

"Osborne is a master of the high style." -The Guardian

"Captivating...Stylish and engaging." -Financial Times

"Osborne elicits some profound and harrowing reflections...From Dubai to Beirut, Islamabad to Brooklyn, Osborne’s meditations on fermentation and distillation induce a host of refreshing, taut, timeless unmoorings." -Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“A cosmopolitan and prodigious drinker conducts a tour to selected locales where alcohol flows easily and to others where such spirits are strictly forbidden…Rakish, rich and nicely served.” —Kirkus 

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780770436889
  • Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 7/23/2013
  • Pages: 240
  • Sales rank: 433,352
  • Product dimensions: 5.84 (w) x 8.46 (h) x 0.88 (d)

Meet the Author

A celebrated novelist and journalist, LAWRENCE OSBORNE is the author of six travel narratives, and a novel, The Forgiven. His latest novel, The Ballad of a Small Player is out in April 2014. He has written for the New York Times Magazine, the Wall Street Journal Magazine, the New Yorker, Forbes, Harper's, and several other publications. He lives in New York City and Bangkok.

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Table of Contents

Gin and Tonic

A Glass of Arak in Beirut

Fear and Loathing in the Bekaa

Lunch with Walid Jumblatt

The Ally Pally

England, Your England

The Pure Light of High Summer

New Year’s in Muscat

The Little Water

My Sweet Islamabad

Bars in a Man’s Life

Getting a Drink in a Civil War


East into West

Twilight at the Windsor Hotel

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Customer Reviews

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