Synopses & Reviews
John Barleycorn is the closest thing to an autobiography Jack London ever wrote. It is a startingly honest, vivid and raw account of his life as a drinker, peppered with entertaining anecdotes from a storied and adventure-filled life. This edition features a new introduction by Pete Hamill.
About the Author
Pete Hamill is the author of A Drinking Life and Piecework, among other books. He lives in New York.
Reading Group Guide
1. Discuss Londons complicated feelings about alcohol as evidenced in the opening conversation with Charmian. How does he justify his opinion of Prohibition? Did you find his argument convincing or not? Throughout the book, London insists he is not an alcoholic-do you agree?
2. What does London mean by the White Logic and the Noseless One? How does their felt presence affect London? Are they strictly metaphorical constructions or more palpable manifestations of Londons drink-addled mind? How does the White Logic correspond to Londons complicated view of death? Do you think London had a death wish?
3. Critics have argued about John Barleycorns autobiographical accuracy. What do you make of this dispute? Were there parts of Londons narrative that rang less true to you than others? How would you appraise the books honesty, particularly in light of a historical context very different from our own?
4. Discuss Jack Londons depiction of himself. How would you describe London, the character, in John Barleycorn? What contradictions, if any, stood out to you?
5. What role does Londons parentage play in the book? Pete Hamill, in his introduction, asserts that London displays an “orphans tone” throughout. Do you agree? How does this tone, and Londons relationship with his mother, inform the book?
6. Hamill contends that the topic of sex stands as a “curious elision” in John Barleycorn. What do you make of its absence, particularly in light of Londons virile portrayal of himself?
7. Do you think London glamorizes drinking? How is drinking ultimately depicted in John Barleycorn? What is your opinion of Londons final assertion regarding his drinking? Is this self-awareness, or denial?