Good morning America!
Over the years I’ve been asked by many North American readers of this blog if my books are available in the United States. As of now, they all are!
Today the first ever US-bespoke edition of one of my books is published. My last book, Shakespeare’s Local, hits American shelves today as Shakespeare’s Pub: A Barstool History of London As Seen Through the Windows of Its Oldest Pub – The George Inn. (I’ve noticed on my trips to the States that you guys LOVE a long subtitle).
It’s published by St Martin’s Press, the US partner of my UK publisher, Pan Macmillan, and there’s a bit more information about them and the book on their website, along with a really quite lovely gallery of the photos and illustrations used in the book.
The thing about your long subtitles is that it kind of tells you everything you need to know about the book (there’s actually a riff in Shakespeare’s Pub about the Stuart-era fashion for even longer subtitles and their similarity to those movie trailers that give away the whole plot.) But I’ll elaborate a little for those who don’t know.
The pub has been hailed as ‘the primordial cell of British life’. For centuries, pubs have provided the glue that holds communities together. They are more than shops that sell drink, different from bars in that people feel a greater sense of ownership and belonging than in any other commercial establishment.
Today the great British pub ranks second or third in any survey of what visitors from abroad wish to experience when the go to the UK. And yet the pub is in crisis, with an average of 26 closing their doors for good every single week.
Against this backdrop, I wanted to tell the story of ‘one pub and everyone who has ever drank in it’, and the George emerged as the best candidate thanks to its unique combination of survival and location. There were perhaps more significant pubs historically, but they are no longer with us. And there are older pubs, but one reason they have survived is that they are tucked away in corners of the country where nothing much happens – meaning there is a less interesting story to tell.
The story of the George involves the three leading lights of English literature – not just Shakespeare, but also Chaucer and Dickens. The latter was definitely a regular at the George, but I have to warn readers that there is no firm documentary evidence that either Chaucer or Shakespeare definitely drank in the George. In Shakespeare’s case that’s because there’s hardly any documentary evidence of him doing anything at all. But circumstantial evidence that he drank in the George is very strong indeed.
As well as these guys, the story involves a wide-ranging cast of villains, prostitutes, beggars, thieves, merchants, brewers, highwaymen, prime ministers and royalty – making the George the perfect case study of the democracy and inclusiveness of the pub – qualities that make any obituary for pubs very premature indeed.
Shakespeare’s Local been my most successful book launch in the UK to date, having been serialised on BBC Radio 4 and included in several ‘best picks’ of books of 2012. It’s a book about pubs, but it’s my least beery book so far – it’s much more about broader social history, and aims to please a broader audience.
(Note to UK readers: the only things that have changed for the American edition are the cover and title and, I guess, maybe some Americanized spellings. In any and all other respects this is the same book as Shakespeare’s Local).
My previous books were way more beery. Last time I looked, aged ago, they were not available anywhere in the US, but I’m delighted to discover that all three are now listed on amazon.com at non-import prices, in paperback and kindle editions. For anyone not familiar with them, here is a brief recap:
My first book looks at the history of beer (and pubs) mainly from a UK perspective. It’s still my bestselling book overall as it keeps up steady business as an easy, accessible, general introduction to the world of beer. If you’re a beer geek looking for something more thorough and rigorous, track down anything by Martyn Cornell, or check out the Oxford Companion to Beer. What I tried to do here is discuss beer with both the irreverence and respect it deserves, offering entertainment as well as education to anyone who enjoys a good beer, but still packing in enough historical fact and trivia so that even the most knowledgeable beer geek might find something knew not just about beer, but the context it sat in, why it was there and how important it was, and still remains. This edition was updated in 2010. When people ask me which of my books is best, I tell them this is the most popular.
Breaking out of my UK perspective, for my second book I went on a world tour of important beer drinking nations. At a time when the idea of ‘craft beer’ was really happening in the US but wasn’t that well known in the UK, I compared different brewing traditions, beer styles and ways of drinking, from Europe to the US, from Portland to Prague, from Milwaukee to Melbourne, Australia, including Paddys’ Day in Ireland, Oktoberfest in Munich, and around 500 bars across thirteen countries. When people ask me which is my best book, I tell them this is the funniest.
India Pale Ale is the flagbearer of the craft beer movement, the most popular beer style among beer geeks and brewers. Everyone involved in that scene knows the legend of the beer brewed to be shipped to British garrisons in India, and the supposed transformation it underwent on the voyage. But no one knew what really happened. My third book charts my attempt to take a cask of traditionally brewed IPA from Burton-on-Trent to Calcutta by its traditional sea route around the Cape of Good Hope for the first time in 140 years. It cuts between the most detailed history of IPA there is, and my own journey on a variety of vessels. It didn’t quite go according to plan. When people ask me which is my best book, I tell them this is the best-written.
So that’s how I spent the last ten years of my life. I’m very proud to have all four books now on sale in the US and I hope American readers can cope with the slang and English vernacular* and enjoy them as much as my British readers.
*And the irritating over-reliance on footnotes.