“Have you read this?” my mother in-law flashing a bright yellow paperback in my direction. I shook my head, told her that I had not “Oh. Well they just made a movie about it. Here read it, it’s cute” I tossed the book in my purse/backpack and there it sat, over 500 pages for about a week before I yanked the bloody thing out because it was making my backpack too heavy. I flipped it onto one of the overstuffed chairs in my living room where it landed with a deep thud, and where it sat for another two weeks.
I cracked it open one evening and stumbled through the first couple pages. A narrative written with the speech pattern and slang of an older, African American woman from the 1960s in the south. For some reason, on that night, I found it just too taxing to float through and put it down for another week or so. Woke up super early a couple of Sundays ago, the house so quiet, the world outside just beginning to percolate, the coffee pot grumbling its alert that the aromatic liquid that had been filling my nose and sparking my desire, was in fact ready for me now. Too peaceful for the television and with all my stacked copies of Saveur devoured I reached once again for the bright yellow paperback.
On that morning the words and emotion, the textured voices and personalities so vivid I swore I could picture their faces, just leapt before the eyes that greedily gobbled them up. Three cups of coffee, two glasses of Lustau Fino Sherry, countless handfuls of almonds and five hours later I was still tucked into the corner of the sofa, half the book now flipped to the finished side and while excited about being taken out to a fancy dinner that evening, dreading having to put the book down and leave my new friends.
The novel was The Help, written by Kathryn Stockett. A brilliantly written story, full of pain, humor, uncomfortable truths and some sadness, all told through different voices and viewpoints. Truly astounding to me, the kind of talent it takes to pull that off so beautifully, flawlessly. I finished the book the following day and then came to find out that while now a bestseller and movie, the book had sixty rejections before it was published, sixty. I found that simply amazing and it gave me a punch of perspective as far as deciding or making proclamations about what is good and what isn’t.
My mother in-law thought it was “cute” which is fine. I on the other hand found it powerful, poignant, enraging at times and dripping with raw emotion. Maybe it was my connection to the black community, the complete removal of any kind of “us and them” feeling that I was raised with. Maybe it was from never knowing what having “help” was, or is, like. Dunno why we took such different feelings away from the stories, both positive but very different, the point is, there were at least sixty people, (likely far more than sixty) before us that thought the book wasn’t worth publishing. For you score lovers out there that is less than fifty points or, a glass turned upside down…..sixty times!
Now before anyone starts thinking I am going after the oft whined about 100 point scale and the reviewers that use them, let me assure you, I am not. I’ve said it before and I will say it again, that argument is absolutely fucking pointless. I see no reason to hash and rehash the damn thing. Hell, truth be told, I don’t even care enough to bother weighing in anymore. Reviewers use them, retailers reuse them, (and that is where you can find me getting riled up….lazy and often dishonest. Many retailers posting a score on a wine that once got a 93 or whatever…but not mentioning that the wine on the shelf is a new vintage. Or worse, posting scores from their in house reviewers as if it were from a publication. Creases the hell out of me that) and consumers find some kind of comfort in knowing that what they are grabbing was viewed favorably by somebody. I get it and honestly, I don’t think scores, with tasting notes, do any real harm…I don’t follow or use them, not because I am fighting against the evil machine of wine critic, but because wine, much like literature, food and music…hell, even sex, is so often situational to me. Just not the way my passion works. I don’t affix a grade, stars or points to my meals, books or lovers and wine, when it moves me, can and does feel just as sensual as someone’s hands moving slowly across my flesh, just as powerful as feeling someone’s heart as I read their story, just as thrilling as having a piece of music bend my body and flick away at my soul. Simply cannot begin to consider condensing all of that down to….a number? Nah, never going to be me.
Look, as the buyer for a few departments at The Wine Country I am, often daily, tasting and buying wines that I simply don’t care for. Just part of the gig, I’m not shopping for myself each time I sit across from a supplier and sample their wines. There are all kinds of things swirling around in my head as the wine swishes around in my glass. First of all, is the wine free of flaws, not is it “good” as that is totally subjective, but is it sound. Then come the other waves of questions; do I know at least six people that will adore this wine? What foods would I pair this with….and how often are people going to come in asking for that type of pairing? “This would be delicious with peach and wild rice stuffed pheasant” um, yeah, I get those requests on a daily basis, this is gonna fly! Then lastly, as an old world buyer, does the wine taste like where it comes from?
Another touchy subject, the notion of terroir and I’m not one of those people that is going to rant and make grand statements about that either. Well, not much anyway. Few things will trigger my, “Oh shut up” button faster than some yanker in my face telling me his central coast Chardonnay is Chablis like. No, no it’s not. It may be all stainless but it does not, cannot and should not taste like Chablis, and trust me, I get just as pissy with the old world folks that say that the wines of the new world have no sense of place. Total horseshit those comments and I simply won’t stand for it. For me, when I am buying wines for the store though, if a Sancerre tastes like….well, like Sauvignon Blanc, it has no place on my shelves, period. There is just too much wine out there to chose from and to earn a spot in my departments the wines must be distinctive. Does that mean “good”?
I get it all the time. I stand there and yammer about flavors, textures and why I think this wine is exactly what the customer is looking for only to be met with, “Yes, but is it good?” and while I wish at times that I was a fortune teller, there is simply no way I can assure you that the wine is going to light your fire. I can promise you, (cork taint aside) that the wine is well made and as it should be but I can’t tell you, until I get to know you pretty well, that you are going to like it. Just too many factors; mood, food, company, hormones, temperature, that are beyond my control. The only thing I can say with 100% certainty, if the wine is at our store it has been chosen, selected for its merits and one of our buyers, much like that 61st person that ended up with The Help on their desk, believes in it.
A glass of wine, a seemingly simple enough thing but just like the first few pages of a book, the first time you hear a song and first kisses, sometimes you just gotta go for seconds……