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Tuesday, 9 August 2016

The Pub: A Cultural Institution

The first of three new books from me is out now. Sort of.

My book on pubs is officially released on 18 August, but it's already been spotted in Foyles and Blackwells.

I was asked to do this book by the publisher - it was a scenario where they came up with the idea and had a shortlist of authors in mind for it. If I'd said no, they would have asked someone else. But I couldn't say no.

We all know the format of this kind of 'coffee table' book. It looks beautiful. It's not the kind of book you read from cover to cover. You pick it up and flip through it, lingering over the pictures. In some, the text is just there to put gaps between the pictures.

Like my and Bill's book on cider, I wanted to make this book more than that. It had to be beautiful, it had to be a book you want to buy as a present for anyone who loves pubs. But I also wanted the text to mean something, for it also to be a book you did want to read cover to cover.

So it's not a book that reviews pubs by the range of beers they have, what the food is like or whether they allow dogs. The internet is a far better place for that. The centre of this book for me are the fifty double page spread reviews of my favourite pubs.

It's seventy years ago this year since George Orwell wrote The Moon Under Water and said that the single thing that defines a great pub is its atmosphere. So I set myself the task of trying to review pubs by their atmosphere. It's a difficult task, because atmosphere is intangible, which is why few pub reviewers talk about what remains the single most important criterion by which we judge pubs. 

I certainly didn't succeed in reviewing every pub by its atmosphere - some of the reviews lapse into talking about history, location or beer range, although all these factors do contribute to atmosphere. But where I have succeeded, the reviews are short essays on what makes pubs pubs, little stories that pick up on and celebrate the legendary landlord, the role in the community, the eccentricities and legends that separate great pubs from other retail outlets.

As well as these top fifty, there are shorter listings of a further 250 pubs all across the UK, plus sections on pub history and pub culture. It's pub porn, basically. Researching the book last year was an absolute delight. Sometimes we spent all day driving to a particular pub that had been recommended, and we'd get there and it would be worth every minute of the journey. It was brilliant going to places like Liverpool, having tweeted that I'd be there, and finding a posse of people waiting for me so they could show me their favourite haunts. Five days with a list of recommendations across Somerset, Devon and Cornwall was utterly magical, and the comedown at the end, when we visited  pub that was merely good as opposed to legendary, was startling.

There's a lot of doom and gloom talked about pubs at the moment, with good reason. For the last decade pubs have been put through the wringer. This book doesn't address that - it seeks to remind the reader why pubs matter so much in the first place.

The book is available for pre-order on Amazon and I imagine they'll be shipping in the next couple off days. If you're at the Great British Beer Festival today, I'm signing copies - unofficially - at the CAMRA bookstall at 3pm and 6pm.


Mappiman said...

Another one for the "to read" list. Will look out for it.

Gerry Hahlo said...

Looks beautiful and I am sure it will be really interesting. I am looking forward to comparing your selections to mine and to reading about them. Coffee table though? Will there later be a paperback version that I can tuck in my haversack as I tour the country to experience these fabulous places?

John Medd said...

Was this the one I helped Kickstart? I can't remember; either way, it looks good. My 'Top 10' (not 'arf) will probably not overlap with yours in any kind of Venn Daiagram way, but can be found here nonetheless:

Anonymous said...

Did The Black Dog, Whitstable make in the 50?

Pete Brown said...

If you mean the one in Whitstable, it certainly did.

Mike McWilliam said...

Super cool. If I'd known you were signing copies at GBBF I'd have had a truckload. Cheers, Mike. The Black Dog

Christian said...

Oh, just saw this now. Looks like I missed you (and your book) at gbbf... :(

Ian Laker said...

Hi Pete,

I bought your book about a week ago and have been glued (when time permits), ever since.

I just felt compelled to write after having got to the page, today, on The Dublin Castle. It stopped me in my tracks. That page is one of the best and most moving pieces of writing on any pub related topic I have read. The background to the pub names, their ignorant and insensitive renaming (the shortening of which is the most recent and insidious disease, rendering their heritage often meaningless). Also the evocative description of the environment for the great music that has been played there. Superb.

Not just any 'coffee table' style book, which suggests a certain stuffiness. This has all the vital elements that made your first three so compelling (I haven't got the cider book or Shakespeare's local).

It also mentions my old mate Martyn Hillier at the Butcher's Arms in Herne, Kent. That's a whole other story, too long to go into here.

Excellent stuff, Pete and I look forward to my complimentary copy of What Are You Drinking - eventually!

Max said...

Great article, love to read about it mate!

pete said...

Your boook is really fantastic.