‘Aside from his books, he loved nothing – and no one – longer, more ardently, or more faithfully than he loved wine . . . they both sparked conversation, they both were a lifetime project, they both were pleasurable to shelve, they were the only things he collected.’
The celebrated American author, editor and essayist Anne Fadiman was born in 1953 into a family of booklovers and writers. Her mother Annalee was the only female war correspondent in China during the Second World War, and her father Clifton was a successful author, critic, columnist, publisher and MC of the popular NBC radio quiz show Information Please. Anne and her brother Kim grew up surrounded by thousands of books and the entire family were committed ‘sesquipedalians’, besotted with very long words. The effect of this ‘pathologically bookish’ childhood was celebrated in Anne’s well-loved collection of warm and witty essays, Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader.
The Wine Lover’s Daughter began life as an idea for an article Anne pitched to Harper’s magazine. ‘I think I could tell the story of my father’s life and character through wine,’ she proposed. The article never materialized but the idea took root and, thankfully, Anne decided to write this memoir. Born in Brooklyn to Eastern European immigrants, Clifton Fadiman believed his twin passions – books and an appreciation of wine – were essential to his reinvention as the model of a modern, cultivated man; to learn about wine was, as he often said, both civilized and civilizing. Anne traces her father’s love affair with wine from his first taste of a white Graves 1927 (on a trip to Paris, where he went to retrieve his wayward first wife) to the Château Lafite-Rothschild 1904 he opened to celebrate his eightieth birthday, and, in doing so, she evokes an entire era of American life. With characteristic wit she also examines her own relationship with her father, writing tenderly and movingly about a vital man yet remaining clear-sighted about his failings.
First published in 2017, this delightful memoir has not until now been available outside America. And it should be, because it is a minor classic, one which will resonate with fathers and daughters, booklovers and wine-lovers, everywhere.
‘A wonderfully engaging memoir . . . Consistently absorbing . . . You will be hard-pressed to stop reading . . . Anne Fadiman’s prose, like a proper gentleman’s suit, is beautifully tailored without drawing attention to itself.’ Michael Dirda, The Washington Post
‘[Clifton] Fadiman was something of an encyclopedia himself, his mind a magpie’s nest of odd facts and glittering insights that he summoned with seeming ease as a great explainer of literature and culture to popular audiences . . . [A] fondly drawn portrait . . . As the title suggests, [Anne Fadiman’s] book is ostensibly about Clifton Fadiman’s love affair with wine, although she writes about his oenophilic odyssey as a way to write about many other things: his ideals, his affectionate if complicated relationship with her, and his lifelong struggle to transcend his origins.’ Danny Heitman, The Wall Street Journal
A Vintage Life
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