For a new sensory experience, David McIntosh pairs alcohol with the written word

The Battery Opera cofounder talks about his reading series, Bob's Literary Salon

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      On Vancouver’s book row on West Pender, most often in the winter, a small crowd gathers in the confines of the Paper Hound bookshop for a special kind of reading. Like the boutique’s uncommon interior—home to hundreds of hard-to-find volumes of prose and poetrythe reading is hosted bywriter and performer David McIntosh, where he pairs a guest author and the audience with a chosen drink for the evening.

      The event is called Bob’s Literary Salon. And rather than solely having the author read a few selected passages while drinking booze carefully selected to match his or her work, which McIntosh finds tedious, he switched the roles around. The audience, instead, reads randomly from the author’s selected pieces as they drink.

      “That way it’s kind of interesting as you really get to know the author in a random way, but actually in a deep way,” the cofounder of Battery Opera, an interdisciplinary performing-arts group, remarked in an interview with the Straight held at the back of the Paper Hound. “You don’t have assumptions of what should be read, so you actually read text isolated in other’s voices.

      “You can hear people struggle with the structure of the words; it’s really pleasant when you drink as well—and then people can share their sensations, what they’ve heard,” McIntosh described. “It’s totally loose.

      We did one where we had this really nice bourbon and we had a frozen strawberry in each shot glass,” he recalled. He had selected Flannery O’Connor’s work for the reading. McIntosh remarked that the Paper Hound happened to have a copy of O’Connor’s prayer journals. “People started reading those and it was quite beautiful just to see the fragility of her desires.

      “It helped to have the bourbon, spirit, and the little Catholic frozen heart. It was quite a magical moment, and it was a moment the people there discovered. It wasn’t planned or presented to them, it was what was available: a casual discovery.”

      The Paper Hound’s small space doesn’t accommodate many people, which makes the atmosphere personable and intimate—although, given the typical shortness of the event, it isn’t precious. Reading is usually internal and introverted, he said. Thus, taking the reader out into a public setting, alongside a few drinks, elevates the act into a social gathering.

      “It’s a small, informal event, especially when people happen upon it—I’m not giving a dissertation as to why they should appreciate it, so I think it’s quite lovely,” he remarked.

      The Battery Opera cofounder talks about Bob's Literary Salon.
      Nikki Celis

      McIntosh. a trained sommelier, calls the combination of booze and reading aloud a “poetic sensation pairing”, likening the characteristics of an author’s work to that of a drink. “They’ll have a certain kind of density or texture to their work, or sometimes it’s just subject matter.”

      It’s same thing with beer, wine, and spirits, according to McIntosh. Both the author’s work and the drink have a particular identity, a story behind what they want to be and the reality of their true nature, which he mentioned can often be a contradiction.

      “It’s playing with those ideas to find matching or discordant connections. That’s what a sommelier does, or should do.”

      For McIntosh, in regards to alcohol, there’s a bit of a personal stake. “I have an interest in drinks—I think alcohol has been essential for the western-capitalist-colonialist-monopolist project.

      “Coming from a family of alcoholics, it’s been evident to me that it was a crucial element in all our lives,” he confessed. “So, instead of being troubled by it, I decided to be interested instead.

      “You’re drinking, so you’re having your own sensations and your own reactions to it [the drink] that you get to speak of, because it’s very immediate when you swallow something,” he explained further. 

      In regards to his interest in literature: "I like reading," he laughs.

      “My idea was that it would kind of encouragehow you ingest literature or the written word in the same way. Not just reading it on a page, but thinking how you’re ingesting it, how you’re interpreting it—how your own body is accommodating itself to those words, or rejecting them.”

      The next installment of Bob’s Literary Salon will be held on April 15 at roughly 5:30 p.m. The month’s pairing is to be determined. More information can be found here

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