Beer and Book Club | A Voyage to Arcturus at the Speakeasy
PorchDrinking is starting a beer and book club! Each installment will discuss a particular book along with a beer, a bar, a brewpub or what have you. The first meeting of Chapel Hill’s little chapter of Beer and Books (that is, my friend Ben and myself) convened at The Speakeasy in Carrboro, NC, and we discussed “A Voyage to Arcturus.”
“A Voyage to Arcturus” is Scottish author David Lindsay’s near century-old (1920) magnum opus of imagination. From a seance in Hampstead Village, London, to the planet Tormance in the Arcturus star system light-years away, Lindsay leads us on an adventure to discover and explore humanity and our place in the universe.
Chapter one brings us face-to-face with a ghastly apparition: a clear signal we’re in for an extraordinary ride. Within a few chapters, our central character, Maskull, is traversing space in a crystal rocketship. He passes out on the way, and when he comes to, he finds his alien companions have abandoned him, unconscious, in a desert of bright red sand. He also finds himself the owner of new organs: a tentacle stemming from his chest (“magn”) and knob-like projections on his forehead and neck. With them, he discovers new perceptions of a bright new world, including novel colors (“ulfire” and “jale”).
Throughout Tormance, Maskull is met by various humanoid beings (some friendlier than others), many of whom share new sense organs while professing particular worldviews. His thoughts and feelings are challenged, his purpose realigned. And all the way, he develops an understanding of himself and humanity as a whole.
I should share a few reservations, things one might like to know going into it. The language is literally 100 years old. You get used to it pretty quick, but it’s noticeable. There’s a bit of violence (not much of a spoiler), but it’s not obscene. The plot is scant. Character development too. You never really feel like you know Maskull or the accompanying characters, but that isn’t really the point. “A Voyage to Arcturus” is a vessel that carried its author to the outer reaches of humanity. Now, 100 years later, here it is, ready to take us on the same journey.
To balance the out-of-this-world nature of Lindsay’s Voyage, PorchDrinking’s Beer and Book Club stayed close to home with the Speakeasy, a mellow, easy-going bar in Carrboro, NC, with a big beer list (nearly 40 unique drafts), pool tables, TVs, and tables and comfy couches in the back room. That same back room is enclosed by a pair of large garage doors which, in the warmer months, are opened to fresh air and sidewalk traffic. The vibe depends on the goings-on. If there’s a Carolina game on, you can be sure it’ll be busy and buzzing. On the other hand, on quiet Tuesday nights, like the night of Beer and Book Club, the tempo comes down to a mellow, easy-going pace.
When I asked Ben what he thought about the Speakeasy, he said, “Seems like a cool, laid-back place that has a great beer list.” I couldn’t agree more. Well, maybe a little more. The only detail I would add is that you can order food as well, from Tyler’s Taproom next door.
Once we got our beers, we sat at a tall table in a corner and brought to order the first meeting of the PorchDrinking’s Beer and Book Club (Chapel Hill chapter). I ordered Foothills’ famous Sexual Chocolate imperial stout (fullest of full-bodied beers, rich chocolate balanced by hop bitterness); Ben picked Evil Twin’s Bringing a Gun To A Knife Fight hazy IPA (“really hazy, citrus-forward hop bomb”). Having just eaten dinner, I was looking for dessert. Ben, on the other hand, preferred the bright, citrusy freshness of the IPA, maybe to perk himself up for our totally serious book club.
It must have worked because as soon as I asked him what he thought, he was already saying, “It’s a pretty weird book.” I didn’t disagree. He continued, “Very surface level characters who have serious conversations about mankind’s purpose in the world. It was really interesting though. It didn’t feel like a book from 100 years ago. It’s weird like the ‘60s and ‘70s were weird. The best part was the vivid description and the exceptional creativity.”
We went on to talk about how some big name sci-fi and fantasy writers (C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien) over the years have pointed to Voyage as an inspiration. But before we got too far, we paused to order round two. Ben went with another IPA from all the way in Cary, Obfuscate by Bond Brothers (another “really hazy, citrus-forward hop bomb”). I opted for a sort of a palate cleanser in Reissdorf’s Kölsch (crisp, light, fresh). We continued, acknowledging H.G. Wells and Jules Verne as predecessors in science fiction, and lauded David Lindsay for pushing the envelope. Our shared conclusion was even if it wasn’t the most complete story either of us had read, it was certainly one of the most creative and memorable.
Before we brought Beer and Book Club to a close, we discussed what to read next. We settled on “A Man Called Ove“ (2012) by Swedish author Fredrick Backman. Ove, which was released as a film in 2016, is about a curmudgeonly old man (Ove) and his comedic interactions with the young couple that just became his neighbors and their pair of boisterous daughters. Sounds fun!
If anyone is interested in participating in Beer and Book Club, I invite you to read along, comment, join Ben and me for a beer or two. We’d love to have you. Until then, please enjoy the other chapters of PorchDrinking’s Beer and Book Club!