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The Trip to Echo Spring: On Writers and Drinking

3.65  ·  Rating Details ·  1,506 Ratings  ·  285 Reviews
Why is it that some of the greatest works of literature have been produced by writers in the grip of alcoholism, an addiction that cost them personal happiness and caused harm to those who loved them? In The Trip to Echo Spring, Olivia Laing examines the link between creativity and alcohol through the work and lives of six extraordinary men: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hem ...more
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published December 31st 2013 by Picador (first published 2013)
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This book combines two of my favorite topics -- alcoholism and writers. And yet, I was disappointed.

Olivia Laing picked six writers who struggled with alcohol addiction: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, John Cheever, John Berryman, and Raymond Carver. Laing traveled around the United States to visit their old haunts, analyzed their writings about drinking, and mixed it all up with some scientific research into alcoholism.

"I wanted to know what made a person drink and w
Washington Post
Jan 14, 2014 Washington Post rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
“The Trip to Echo Spring” uncovers very little new about authors we know too much about. Instead of Hemingway or Fitzgerald, she might have inspected the lives of Kingsley Amis or Dorothy Parker. This book is riddled with the first-person singular, more often than not in ways totally irrelevant to the business at hand. Thus: “Months ago, back in England, when I was just beginning to think down into the subject of alcohol, I became certain that whatever journey I was making would begin in a hotel ...more
Sep 25, 2013 Roger rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literature
That there is something fascinating to many about the connexion between alcohol and writing is evidenced by the bibliography of the book under review, which contains a healthy selection of articles and books discussing the issue from all sorts of angles. One of the books in the bibliography, The Thirsty Muse : alcohol and the American writer, is a book I've read several times: I was hoping that The trip to Echo Spring would be another enjoyable essay into this murky subject, but alas I closed th ...more
Sian Lile-Pastore
Jul 27, 2013 Sian Lile-Pastore rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir
well, just thinking about alcoholism fills me with anxiety, but this is a wonderful book and just my kind of thing. while it is in the main about why writers drink, it is also a little bit of a travel book and a memoir and is just lovely and bookish and tender and slightly sad.

it focuses on the lives of berryman, fitzgerald, hemingway, tenessee williams, raymond carver and john cheever (and if you are concerned that Laing is ignoring women writers/drinkers, she addresses that quite early on in t
A confession: I wasn't interested in the work of all but one of the writers profiled (Tennessee Williams). However, I got the book from the library primarily for the travel narrative aspect, where I felt Laing excelled. The writers' biographies interested me (for the most part), as did the author's own story, which I didn't find intrusive at all. I did tend to zone out when she examined their actual work in any detail, but as I said, I knew that might happen at the outset.

This book is recommend
Bookdragon Sean
Goodreads winner!

This book provides insight into the drinking habits of six authors and the consequential alcoholism. It is evident that a great deal of research has gone into this as it shines through their experiences. The author has written it, for the most part, in an engaging and informative way. I enjoyed reading some parts of it.

My major criticism is that the author has filled the pages with her own experiences with alcoholism along with her childhood and how the two relate. I don’t see t
Feb 11, 2014 Joanne rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This book was disappointing. I heard the author being interviewed on the radio, and she intrigued me. However, I found the book to be just plain tedious. I don't need to read excerpts from the DSM or have explained to me how alcohol works. I wanted to read more about these gifted men and less about the author wandering around Key West or New Orleans. The book bored me, and I found myself skimming great swatches of chapters. Can't recommend this book if you are looking for details of the writers.
Vivek Tejuja
Oct 12, 2013 Vivek Tejuja rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
There is this thing with almost all writers. They have weird obsessions most of the times, and sometimes they are just addicted to everything or that one thing that they think makes them. Drinking is one of them. I have heard and read about so many stories about writers who are alcoholics, but never wondered why. I always assumed it would be something to do with their creative genius. I always wanted to know more about the condition and why do writers get down that road.

Olivia Laing’s book coul
Gail Slater
Feb 23, 2014 Gail Slater rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Trip to Echo Spring is a combination biography, travelogue, and memoir by an author who Amtraked her way around the US to catch the elan and times of six alcoholic writers. Though often drunk, drugged, disorderly, or locked up, they produced some of our best literature in the 20th C; they were always sick and suffering. I ’ve been humbled to read how they made sense of their mangled lives in their writings, and for a few, in their recoveries. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway drank and w ...more
Dec 18, 2014 Richard rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2014
A minority report about an infuriating read.

The Trip to Echo Springs, is part biography, part travel writing, part psychology, part literary criticism, and only partially satisfying in whole or in part.

If you've paid attention to writers, you've been through some amount of discussion about writers and drinking, and writers and suicide, and drunk writers who have committed suicide, so this book is nothing new in terms of subject matter. There's also not much new about alcohol theory or medicine.
Great for information about alcoholism and anecdotes about some alcoholic writers (still asking myself, though, why no female writers were discussed). Not sure she satisfactorily answers the question why writers drink. She suggests that some of these writers' best work could not have been written without the help of huge doses of alcohol, which I find very hard to believe. I'm not sure that anything of lasting merit or artistic value could be produced in a state of alcoholic oblivion. She also s ...more
M.R. Dowsing
This is a sort of combination of travel writing, lit crit, biography and autobiography as Laing travels around America visiting places connected with Raymond Carver, John Cheever, F.Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Tennesse Williams and John Berryman, all of whom were alcoholics. The subtitle is unfortunate I think because it doesn't explain why writers drink or even give any evidence that writers drink more than anyone else. Both the journey and the book feel self-indulgent, but it's well-wr ...more
Jan 07, 2014 Vyvyan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The UK subtitle of the book is Why Writers Drink. The US edition has On Writers and Drinking instead, an acknowledgement of the impossibility of explaining with any great satisfaction why the six authors in Laing's book -- or any others -- were alcoholics. We would suspect it if she were to give pat or conclusive answers to such a complex condition. But she comes as close to answering the question as you imagine anyone could, by virtue of her close reading of medical study, scholarship, and most ...more
Jessica Anne
Jun 05, 2014 Jessica Anne rated it it was ok
I'm going to write a shitty review along the lines of why this book is shitty (aka, I'm going to make it personal when I should be objective).

I like Olivia Laing. I like why she chose all male white American alcoholic authors ("because I liked them"), and I like how she writes about landing on airport runways with slowly pulsating lights in the night. Her sentences often take off in a very beautiful way.


I wanted to read about writers and alcoholism, not about her planes and trains across Ame
Aug 05, 2016 Tiffany rated it it was ok
I quite enjoyed the portions of the books that described the interactions of the authors, especially the relationship between Hemingway and Fitzgerald. The author's interjections of her own story were not as interesting, nor was the majority of her trip across the country. Her trip could have really added to the book, but most of it was a "drive by" on a train. I think that was a missed opportunity to visit some of the places relevant to the authors that she chose to profile.
Jul 08, 2014 Holly rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2014-reads
A British woman-journalist traveling around the U.S. thinking about alcoholism - though not very deeply - and trotting out the biographies of very well-known American writers - while filling the pages with her own self-indulgent descriptive writing and a superficial survey of the meaning of alcoholism (she seems to think the Twelve Steps of AA is the key to understanding everything and we get the full list at least twice and the individual steps countless times). The framework of the roadtrip to ...more
Anna Maria Ballester Bohn
I put this book on my wish-list as soon as I saw it: suffering writers drinking themselves to death, what's not to like? Then I read a couple of middling reviews, downloaded the first chapter for my Kindle and somehow wasn't drawn in, so I didn't purchase it. Now I saw it in a Spanish edition and snorted it up in a couple of days. It must be the first time a book actually appeals more to me in translation... Anyway, it *is* a beautiful and poetic book, there's artistic suffering aplenty, and it' ...more
Nov 13, 2014 Bill rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you're looking for a an answer to the question as to why great writers drink you won't get it from this book--And that is one of the book's strengths. But if you're interested in how alcohol figured into the personal and literary lives of these six great authors (Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Berryman, Cheever, Carver, and Tennessee Williams) then you will not be disappointed. The book provides many potential explanations of why these authors may have succumb to excessive drinking and incontrovertib ...more
Christian Bauman
Dec 28, 2013 Christian Bauman rated it really liked it
This was pretty great. Can't make up mind whether it would have been awesome or a mistake to read it back to back with Rosie Schaap's Drinking With Men…but I didn't so never mind anyway. As you might expect this is a very sad book, made sadder by the memoir threaded throughout. It's also made more delightful by that. As well as just the personal observations along the way, the detailing of the geography and weather as the author moves from place to place, from one literary scene of the crime to ...more
The alcoholism of writers is, of course, the stuff of legend and, a few rungs down the ladder, of cliché. It was perhaps sealed in the popular American imagination by Charles R. Jackson’s underrated 1944 novel “The Lost Weekend” and the subsequent overrated Billy Wilder film of the following year. But the connection between addiction and creativity remains as enigmatic and complex as it was for De Quincey exploring his opium habit almost 200 years ago. Whiskey turns Don Birnam, the writer in “Th ...more
Feb 26, 2014 Wyatt rated it really liked it
An incredibly moving, beautifully written book. Vividly depicts the role of alcohol in the lives of these writers, the complex and individual psychology behind addiction, and its devastating effects, with sympathy and clear-sightedness. Makes me want to read and reread Cheever and Carver especially.
Paul ataua
In a trip to Echo Spring, Laing draws together six American writers with the common theme of alcoholism and how that alcoholism made or unmade their work and life. It is good on description, has some interesting anecdotes, but is somewhat disappointing when it moves into interpretation. Mildly interesting.
Colin Andersen
May 24, 2015 Colin Andersen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wonderful commentary on the (drinking) lives of some of the literary giants of our time.
Robert Vaughan
The way this book moves between memoir, biography, travelogue is fascinating and seamless. Spellbinding. And of course, those six authors who have meant so much to the modern writer or reader. And alcohol as binding substance. My visiting friend and writer, Meg Tuite, turned me on to this book. I devoured it in less than three days. Now I want to read Laing's first book, and have already ordered her next. Do yourself a favor. Pick any of her works, and you will be so happy you did. Then slip int ...more
Beth Boylan
Jan 23, 2017 Beth Boylan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Beautifully researched and written. A poignant exploration of six writers' relationship with alcohol, sprinkled with Laing's own observations, experience, and travel anecdotes.
2017 reading challenge category: 17. A book with illustrations

Regarding the category: specifically, this book is full of photographs of the writers Laing discusses. Is that an "illustration"? I'm counting it, so it is now!

I found the concept of this book fascinating: an exploration of the link, if any, between drinking or alcoholism and famous American (male) writers. But I found the actual organization and threading of the narrative to be lacking. I felt that Laing never quite figured out what
Mar 06, 2017 Jason rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The current trend in non-fiction is erraticism. It seems everything has been written about single topics so the only way forward is to write book length essays that touch glancingly on a myriad of things. There is beauty in this because, frankly, life is little more, exactly. Laing cares, deeply, and this is what makes her books worth reading. It is a sorry sight to see reviewers lambasting an author for not satisfying expectations, as if this is even tangentially related to good writing. Laing ...more
Curse of the creative
BookPage® Column by Robert Weibezahl

The genius writer as self-destructing alcoholic is a cliché, but as with all clichés, it originates in truth. Faulkner, Dylan Thomas, Poe, Dorothy Parker, Anne Sexton—it gets to be a very long list once you begin compiling. In The Trip to Echo Spring: On Writers and Drinking, Olivia Laing offers a singular amalgam of biography, memoir, travelogue and literary criticism as she deftly refracts the lives and works of six writers through the p
Meg Tuite
Mar 07, 2017 Meg Tuite rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Absolutely brilliant and unforgettable!!! Mesmerized from start to finish! LOVE Laing!
The publisher's description:
Why is it that some of the greatest works of literature have been produced by writers in the grip of alcoholism, an addiction that cost them personal happiness and caused harm to those who loved them? In The Trip to Echo Spring, Olivia Laing examines the link between creativity and alcohol through the work and lives of six extraordinary men: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, John Berryman, John Cheever and Raymond Carver.

All six of these wri
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Olivia Laing is a writer and critic. Her first book, To the River (2011) is the story of a midsummer journey down the river Virginia Woolf drowned in. It was a book of the year in the Evening Standard, Independent and Financial Times and was shortlisted for the 2012 Ondaatje Prize and the Dolman Travel Book of the Year.

Her second, The Trip to Echo Spring (2013), explores the liquid links between w
More about Olivia Laing...

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“At some point, you have to set down the past. At some point, you have to accept that everyone was doing their best. At some point, you have to gather yourself up, and go onward into your life.” 14 likes
“You could go two ways from there. You could keep on marinating in blame, in helpless submission to your circumstance. Or you could stop, just clean stop, and take up the liberating burden of responsibility for yourself.” 5 likes
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