If you’ve traipsed down the shadowy alley of writing advice, you’ve almost certainly come across the, “to be a better writer, you have to write!” obviousisms, which are usually followed by the trumpeting accompaniment of, “but you have to read, too!” I’m not here to deny either of those pieces of advice. To be a better writer, you definitely do need to write, and possibly more than you’re writing now. To be a better writer you do need to read good writing, preferably more on the side of good books and essays and stories, and less on the side of Buzzfeed and TMZ and DailyMail.
What you read is just as (if not more) important as what you write. It gives you examples of excellent storytelling and wordplay. It offers perspective from another, educated angle. It shows you what it takes to write something marketable, that people will actually want to read.
One of the best aspects of being a beer writer is that you’re not really a beer writer. I mean you’re not only a beer writer. Our bubbly beau topically involves culture, chemistry, biology, sociology, psychology, economics, and all manner of other abstract intangibles like love and passion and modern facial hair styles. Beer is pretty close to an ideal nonfiction subject; the simple topics can be broken down into ever more complex and curious ideas almost infinitely, like a Russian Doll whose last, tiny form is located precisely wherever your imagination happened to run out of energy.
There’s a draw back to having so malleable a topic: to be successful you’ll need to know about more than just beer. Depending on what you want to write, maybe a lot more. If you so choose to don the hallowed robes of beer writing, you’re going to have become a science writer, too. And a memoirist. And a social pundit. And a journalist. And a critic. And an essayist. And maybe a bunch of other things I’m forgetting.
You’ve got to be a writer first and a beer lover second. The best way to do that is to round-out your bookshelf (or Kindle, if that’s what you crazy kids are into).
When I started my masters program, sitting in class with a bunch of other bright-eyed, crazy-minded writers all talking about their day-jobs and future writing prospects, it struck me that I was woefully under-read. My peers were throwing out author names and essay titles that I couldn’t even pretend like I’d heard of. I knew from the very first session of my very first class that I needed to start reading more. The only problem was, given the massive spread of options on Amazon and the daunting sprawl of stacks at the local library, I had no idea where to start.
If you’re like I was then, I’m here to help. I’ve created a list that includes my favorite books about beer, but also lots not about beer to serve as examples of great nonfiction. This list is by no means exhaustive, it’s just the writing I’ve connected to the deepest, and learned the most from.
(I also encourage you to throw out your favorites in the comments if you don’t see them here)
Science/Brewing Beer Books
Principles of Brewing Science – George Fix
For the Love of Hops – Stan Heironymous
Yeast – The Practical Guide to Beer Fermentation – Chris White and Jamil Zainasheff
Water: A Comprehensive Guide for Brewers – John Palmer
How to Brew – John Palmer
Beer Culture, Styles, and Tasting
The Brewmaster’s Table – Garrett Oliver
The Oxford Companion to Beer – Garrett Oliver
Beer Tasting Tool Kit – Jeff Alworth
The World Atlas of Beer – Tim Webb
Beer, Food, and Flavor: A Guide to Tasting, Pairing, and the Culture of Craft Beer – Schuyler Schultz
The Audacity of Hops – Tom Acitelli
Ominvore’s Dilemma – Michael Pollan
Botany of Desire – Michael Pollan
Oranges – John McPhee
Silent Spring – Rachel Carson
Stiff – Mary Roach
The Soul of a New Machine – Tracey Kidder
Up in the Old Hotel – Joseph Mitchell
Bird by Bird – Anne Lamott
The Hero With a Thousand Faces – Joseph Campbell
The Golden Bough – James Frazer
Guns, Germs, and Steel – Jared Diamond
Walden – Henry David Thoreau
Devil in the White City – Erik Larson
The Perfect Storm – Sebastian Junger
The Year of Magical Thinking – Joan Didion
This Boy’s Life – Tobias Wolff
Don’t Let’s Go To the Dogs Tonight – Alexandra Fuller
Me Talk Pretty One Day – David Sedaris
The Pharmacist’s Mate – Amy Fusselman
Strawberries Under Ice – David Quammen
The Search for Marvin Gardens – John McPhee
Frank Sinatra has a Cold – Gay Talese
Dark Horse – Lisa Couturier