I’ve just hit ‘submit’ on the manuscript for a book review I was invited to write for the International Journal of Wine Research on Paul Luzacs’ Inventing Wine (2012). Excellent book. I’ll post the review once it’s published.
With that task completed; with this New Year coinciding with the beginning of a new three-year postdoctoral project attached to the Australian Research Council Linkage Grant “Vines, Wine & Identity: the Hunter Valley NSW and changing Australian taste” (a partnership with the Hunter Valley Wine & Tourism Association and Newcastle Museum); and with plans for a cultural consideration of wine in Australia… it’s time to set my first blogger challenge.
My mission will be to read and re-read my way through my bookshelf of wine books within a year.
Here are the books. The image is distorted because I had to use the Pano setting on my smartphone to capture it. My office is very pleasant but petite and there is no vantage point to capture the whole without contorting myself into a top corner of the room. Anyhow, I like the distortion as a metaphor. The shelf looks like it’s expanding sideways, and about to burst. It’s a fitting description of how a blogger challenge can result in explosions of enlightenment, or frustration.
To quantify the challenge: just what I am getting myself into here? How many books are there to read?
Allowing for repeat copies and books that are not about wine (such as the collection of Braudel, some on womens’ studies, food studies, agriculture and so on) a quick count says there are 119 volumes that I will need to make my way through. At least two per week? A cakewalk. What could possibly go wrong?
With the optimism of January I hereby state that it is my intention to post my impressions of the books as I go, as proof of meeting the challenge, and for your delight. Where possible I will recommend matching drinks, or reveal what I had in the glass at my elbow (currently Riesling, and no plans to change that soon). I’m hoping not to at any stage be moved to suggest hemlock.
The collection you can see in the photograph extends from reference books to pamphlets. The oldest – in terms of first publication date – is a photocopy of a facsimile of a treatise by the philosopher John Locke when he conducted a fact-finding tour of France on behalf of an ambitious English colonist attached to the Carolina colonial project. Most of the books are by wine writers and critics, and are essentially wine tourist guides; some are academic publications. Some I will read as what historians call primary sources, or works created by participants in the time period being studied. Others are secondary sources: historical scholarship on the time period being studied. In this case there is no set time period, though my main focus will be Australia and the Hunter Valley. How can Locke be of relevance to this? Very little, though I have co-published on his work (see the contents of Vol. 16 of this journal link) and books such as Luzacs’, and others I will dust off this year, show the rewards of taking a very broad temporal and (western) spatial view of the story of wine.
How to read wine books
How to read wine books? Well there’s a question wine enthusiasts would consider rhetorical. In my case however, in reading (and re-reading) my collection of wine books I’m seeking to understand the social and cultural meaning of wine; to detect and remark on nuances of continuity and change, power imbalances, and gaps in the story that add to our intellectual understanding of the role of wine in human society and culture. One particularly glaring gap is the exclusion of women from anything more than a slight role in wine production for most of the commodity’s history, though this is changing now at an accelerated pace. Jeni Port’s book Crushed by Women (2000) is an important first word on this in the Australian context – and it is on my shelf. But that’s not where I want to begin. I have some other work to do on oral history interviews with women who produce wine, and women who drink wine, before I revisit Crushed by Women.
(It’s all very serious but, let’s be frank, my research is also enhancing my appreciation for wine!)
The process of selection
So what to take down from my shelves today? The process of selecting the order in which the books will be read needs to be relevant to #vineswineidentity, which is a place-based project, so Hunter Valley publications will be up first.
Which one in particular? I’ve chosen James Halliday and Ray Jarratt (1979), The Wines & History of the Hunter Valley (Melbourne: Meed & Beckett). This is relevant as I’m also reading the transcripts of the first oral history interviews conducted for #vineswineidentity, recorded during driving tours of the Hunter Valley wine region late last year.
Enough setting the scene. My time starts now…