Tuesday, May 10, 2022

JOHN BARLEYCORN or Alcoholic Memoirs by Jack London

What an unexpected find! The very powerful, suspenseful memoir by Jack London. When checking out all of my shelf section of London books in the garage in preparation to take a few with me for a Jack London study an Alaskan Cruise, especially when we get to the '98 Gold Rush pass up at Skagway to B.C., I came across Barleycorn.

Side note: I had evidently picked the memoir up somewhere some years ago but never got around to reading it. There are--as I’ve discovered reading an extensive London bibliography online, at least 7 or 8(!) books by London I’ve never read! So odd, since I thought I had read all but a couple.

Not only is Barleycorn a fascinating memoir, riveting with London's excellent ability at writing suspense, the book gives personal, private details and reflective musings about his youthful times and some deep complex philosophical thoughts. All of this, he expresses in his amazingly powerful poetic prose.

London wrote his memoir against heavy drinking, against getting drunk, promoted Prohibition and did so while also supporting women's suffrage! Tragically, despite his opposition to heavy drinking, getting drunk, and his keen awareness of how alcohol contributed immensely to his tragic life problems, London never quit drinking.

It was his constant abuse of alcohol, too, (besides tropical diseases), which led to his extremely early death at only 40 years of age. That and his negative life stance based in an almost suicidal nihilistic materialism.

The book is an intriguing analysis, with vivid stories, of his own introduction to drinking when very young and the social reasons why he engaged in life-long drinking even though he didn’t like the taste of beer!

He reflects upon the historical fact that drinking alcohol is primarily men’s social way, how they find friends, express themselves emotionally after hard work, party, share, let their macho image down and commune—all around Ethyl. How sometimes alcohol-imbibing even took the place of women!

Only about 20-30 pages in the third 4th of the novel are weak. They are too abstract, miss the intense storied details of the rest of the memoir, and seem sort of thrown together.

Especially fascinating about his memoir, is the story of his unlikely rise to becoming the world's most well-paid writer. When one considers how London's had a spotty unfinished formal education, how he missed most of high school yet got accepted into college after cramming on his own in prep for the entrance exam but then dropped out after only one semester, his accomplishments are amazing. His prose is lucid, complex, poetic at times, incredibly good.

Barleycorn is well worth the read.

Another result of reading this is that I am much more strongly inclined to stop drinking in general, except when I have a little with Betsy for supper or out for a social event.

This book helps me see the horrific result that drinking has caused for multi-millions of humans, especially working men. I understand, again, why my mom so strongly opposed alcohol and why and how my two uncles were so deceived by drink and how it led to tragedy and wreck in their lives and their family’s lives.

In the last 5 years, I had forgotten all of that being too caught up in the fun side of having a glass once-in-a-while, after unexpectedly starting with that Category 5 Hurricane at Joe’s Crab Shack 8 years ago at Pacific Beach, California.

In the Light of Truth, Goodness, and Justice,

Dan Wilcox

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