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About the Author

Bill Barich is the author of several books, among them "Laughing in the Hills", "Big Dreams: Into the Heart of California", "Traveling Light", & "Then Sporting Life". He wrote for "The New Yorker" for many years, contributing short stories as well as pieces on such varied subjects as fly fishing, mostrar mais boxing, Italian culture, & his favorite English pub. He has been a Guggenheim Fellow in fiction, & currently lives in San Anselmo, California. (Bowker Author Biography) mostrar menos

Includes the name: Bill Barich

Image credit: David Timmos

Obras por Bill Barich

Associated Works

The Best American Short Stories 1983 (1983) — Contribuidor — 73 exemplares

Etiquetado

Conhecimento Comum

Data de nascimento
1943
Sexo
male
Nacionalidade
USA

Membros

Críticas

Irishness is big business these days, and the always-glamourized role of drinking in Irish culture is as ripe for commoditization as anything else. Irish bars have become a worldwide phenomenon, offering a prepackaged gateway into a mythical world of great conversation, beautiful music, perfect pints, and a sense of belonging that, in theory, you just can't get anywhere else. Using an appropriately loose barhopping structure, Barich tries to find the One True Irish Pub, noting the effects that globalization has had on that Platonic ideal not only abroad, but also back home in Ireland. It turns out that many Irish people themselves have deeply ambivalent feelings about pubs, and that Ireland's increasing wealth means that the romantic stereotype of endless nights of good fun with cheap beer is not only vanishing from most Irish pubs, which increasingly resemble their American counterparts, but may never have actually existed for most people. Barich does a great job investigating what "authenticity" means in the context of Irish pubs, uncovering some good stories along the way. I wish I'd read this before I went to Ireland, it would have made me appreciate my own role as a tourist in how the meaning of pubs has shifted over time a bit more.

The book is somewhat of a travelogue: after moving to Dublin for an Irish wife, Barich wanted to find a good local authentic Irish pub of his own. "The Irish pub's attraction is universal, and it cuts across cultural boundaries and crops up everywhere on earth with a frequency matched only by the unavoidable Chinese restaurant." Most people have some sort of ideal bar in their heads, their own personal Cheers, and a good bar should be many things to its patrons. Barich mentions the sociological concept of the "third place", distinguished from the home and the workplace, and how a third place has multiple personalities. Throughout history, bars have been meeting spots, places to write, opportunities to find romance, an escape from responsibilities, and much more, up to more modern concepts like sports-watching venue or place to play skee-ball. In Ireland, which has always had a truly exceptional number of pubs, they've come to play an outsized role in the country's image abroad, especially because so many of its most famous cultural figures spent lots of their time getting drunk in them (though not as much as publicity-hungry bars often claim). Even the title of this book, which Barich takes it from the title of a poem by Flann O'Brien, one of my favorite authors, references this. He quotes the first two verses:

"When things go wrong and will not come right,
Though you do the best you can,
When life looks black as the hour of night -
A pint of plain is your only man.

"When money's tight and hard to get
And your horse has also ran,
When all you have is a heap of debt -
A pint of plain is your only man."

It's especially well-chosen because it alludes to a longstanding debate about drinking culture in Ireland. What seems to one person like a light-hearted ode to beer as a respite from the harsher side of life can seem to another like something less pleasant: simple alcoholism. Ireland enjoys its reputation as a land of carefree revelers, but at many points during its history, there have been major efforts to restrict or prohibit drinking due to the social cost. Those efforts didn't take, obviously, but the idea that pubs might have a downside to them is not unknown in Irish culture, which is a nuance that is often lost in discussion, or in the replication of the Irish pub to distant shores. One man's proud local archetype is another man's embarrassing stereotype, and so a "carefree reveler" and a "wasteful philandering dockworker drinking away the money for our children" might be the same person. "If a man tells you he has mastered whiskey, you can be certain that is the whiskey talking," as Barich relates.

We don't really want to talk about downers like that, though. What Barich is after is the upside: the pub as a source of music, fun, and good conversation. As he gradually relates over the many pubs he visits over the course of the book, this imagined utopia is not really a specific place, or even a particular gathering of people, it's a state of mind. He had an image of the ideal Irish pub with a solemn yet friendly publican, conversation that flowed incessantly yet organically, filled with music yet conducive to discussion, steady regulars who always have new stories, and cheap yet not filled with riffraff. Above all, it would feel like his own place conducive to "craic", the Irish word for good times. This is nearly impossible to discover on a travelogue, even though Barich visits an impressive number of bars (some of which I've even been to), in Dublin and around in the countryside. It's difficult not only because as an outsider you can't hope to just drop in and instantly become part of the fabric of people's lives, but also because their lifestyle is changing constantly. Barich cites Walter Benjamin's "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" as part of his discussion of authenticity, as he confronts the question of what it really means to have an "authentic" traditional Irish pub experience in a 21st century Ireland.

Ireland entered the 20th century as one of the poorest countries in the west, and left it as one of the richest. "Gentrification" is an incredibly overused word, but the underlying concept of rising rents leading to a changed neighborhood and a changed lifestyle is familiar to most everyone. The appeal of the traditional pub to the Irish is waning, because one of the things that it meant was poverty, and now there's an opportunity to replace those old pubs filled with one type of patron for other kinds of pubs filled with different types of patrons, or even things that aren't pubs at all. Even the publicans, who used to grow up with the pubs and inherit their operation, no longer have the same near-hereditary desire to run them, due to other opportunities. This same conundrum is all over the United States as well, where Irish pubs are themselves a symbol of gentrification (yes, that shamrock-spangled bar that brags about being half-built in Ireland and serves $6 pints is just as "corporate" as any other sports bar), yet the powerful image of an Ireland that doesn't even exist in Ireland anymore attracts people with the promise of some really convivial Irish approach to drinking. Yet, as Barich uncovers, there are many different approaches to drinking in Ireland, and it might be best to just find a place that works for you, invite some of your friends, and see where the evenings take you. Sounds good enough to me.
… (mais)
 
Assinalado
aaronarnold | 6 outras críticas | May 11, 2021 |
Fair. Interesting and at times funny, especially when talking in the present, however the history parts of the book were a little boring
½
 
Assinalado
Tony2704 | 6 outras críticas | Mar 4, 2015 |
I admit - I didn't open this book with an open mind. Shame on me. [b:A Pint of Plain How the Irish Pub Lost Its Magic but Conquered the World Hardcover|4787995|A Pint of Plain How the Irish Pub Lost Its Magic but Conquered the World|Bill Barich|http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51ICxLJbzrL._SL75_.jpg|4852872] is an excellent piece of new journalism.

My full review will be posted on Green Man Review sometime in March.
 
Assinalado
IsotropicJoseph | 6 outras críticas | Apr 28, 2014 |

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Estatísticas

Obras
12
Also by
1
Membros
487
Popularidade
#50,715
Avaliação
½ 3.5
Críticas
9
ISBN
66
Marcado como favorito
1

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