Reading Matters

Walker Percy liked his bourbon neat

Louisiana novelist Walker Percy, who, if living, would be a 100 next week, liked his bourbon neat.

Though he admits to being no connoisseur, he once wrote that “bourbon does for me what the piece of cake did for Proust.”

In an essay called “Bourbon,” from his book, “Signposts in a Strange Land,” Percy extolled the “aesthetic of bourbon drinking in general and in particular of knocking it back neat.”

The author of “The Moviegoer” remembers his uncle’s sun parlor in the Mississippi Delta about 1933 “...toddies on a Sunday afternoon, the prolonged and meditative tinkle of silver spoon against crystal to dissolve the sugar, talk, tinkle, talk... .”

And a 1935 college football game – UNC vs. Duke. A blind date. “Her clothes are the color of the fall leaves and her face turns up like a flower... . The taste of bourbon (Cream of Kentucky) and the smell of her fuse with the brilliant Carolina fall and the sounds of the crowd and the hit of the linemen in the single synthesis.”

And a ghastly day in 1941 when, in the company of a nurse at New York’s Bellevue Hospital, Percy switched from mint juleps to gin fizzes. Little did he know he was allergic to one ingredient – raw egg albumen. Driving the nurse home over the Brooklyn Bridge, Percy’s upper lip began to swell. “In the space of thirty seconds, my lip stuck out a full three-quarter inch, like a shelf, like Mortimer Snerd. Not only was kissing out of the question but my eyes swelled shut.”

He made it across the bridge, pulled to the curb, and fainted. The nurse drove him back to Bellevue, gave him a shot and put the Bellevue medical resident to bed.

Rest in peace, Walker Percy.

Dannye: dpowell@charlotteobserver.com

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