Each week, we post short interviews with interesting people about their thoughts and feelings on women and drinking. There is such a wide array of perspectives about this topic, and we are excited to gain insight into as many as possible and to share them with you.
Susan Orlean is the bestselling author of eight books, including My Kind of Place; The Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup; Saturday Night; and Lazy Little Loafers. In 1999, she published The Orchid Thief, a narrative about orchid poachers in Florida, which was made into the Oscar-winning movie, “Adaptation,” written by Charlie Kaufman and directed by Spike Jonze. Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend, a sweeping account of Rin Tin Tin’s journey from orphaned puppy to movie star and international icon published in 2011, was a New York Times bestseller and a Notable book of 2011.
Orlean has written for Vogue, Esquire, Rolling Stone, and Smithsonian, and has been a staff writer for the New Yorker since 1992. She has covered a wide range of subjects – from umbrella inventors to origami artists to skater Tonya Harding – and she has often written about animals, including show dogs, racing pigeons, animal actors, oxen, donkeys, mules, and backyard chickens. She lives in upstate New York and Los Angeles with one dog, three cats, eight chickens, four turkeys, four guinea fowl, twelve Black Angus cattle, three ducks, and her husband and son.
Drinking Diaries: How old were you when you had your first drink and what was it?
Susan Orlean: I was probably about 13, and the drink in question was Vandermint — a chocolate mint liqueur, which was very sweet and very awful.
How did/does your family treat drinking?
My parents drank very little. My dad usually had a scotch on Friday nights, and occasionally on a week night, and my mother never drank except when we would talk her into having a few sips of wine. We weren’t a very alcohol-centric family.
How do you approach alcohol in your every day life?
I think of it as an entertaining beverage. Nothing more, nothing less. I’m not very interested in the whole range of wine, for instance — I’m happy having a glass of wine, but I’m not fascinated by wine as a product or a gourmet experience. I sometimes read cocktail menus and think different cocktails sound tasty, but in the end, I can take ‘em or leave ‘em.
If you have kids, how is the subject of drinking handled? Do you drink in front of them? With them?
My son is seven. He sees me and my husband having wine with dinner. He knows what wine is, and he’s tasted it (and of course, hated the taste) and we’ve talked to him about people who drink too much — although I think he’s too young to really understand what that means. All he knows is that in certain cartoons, there are characters who can’t walk straight and have bubbles circling their heads, which is what he thinks being drunk is all about.
Have you ever had a phase in your life when you drank more or less?
I drank a lot in college, which seems to be almost a graduation requirement. It was a way to be uninhibited and ridiculous and experimental, especially with regards to boys. And like all college students, I drank awful stuff — Diet Coke and rum, whiskey sours made with the cheapest, worst whiskey, and lousy beer. But the point was to be together, get tipsy, and be a wild college student, so it worked.
What’s your drink of choice? Why?
I drink white wine — Pinot Grigio, usually. I used to like red wine, too, but now it bothers my stomach, so, sadly, I usually don’t drink it anymore. I rarely drink hard liquor except for the occasional margarita. Wow, do I sound boring!
Has drinking ever affected—either negatively or positively—a relationship of yours?
I had two — yes, two! — alcoholic boyfriends, which was, in both cases, incredibly difficult and ultimately ruined the relationships. I came to appreciate how vicious alcoholism is, and how devastating. It’s made me very wary of people who drink with a bit too much gusto.
What do you like most about drinking?
There’s a tiny relaxation switch that gets flipped when I have a glass of wine — maybe it’s mostly psychological, really, but I feel like I’m loosening my collar and rolling up my sleeves. That’s the way I drink now, compared to the way I drank as a college kid, where drinking was the beginning of a wild party. Now, it’s the beginning of a wind-down, the quieter part of the day. Funny how a few decades changes things, isn’t it?