Leaving the Atocha Station

Today I’m kicking-off a new monthly series, Book Club Wine Pairings, in which I’ll select one of my favorite books and pair it with a great wine. Drinking wine and discussing books are two of my favorite pastimes — in fact, it was my post-college book club that got me into wine in the first place — so it only seemed fitting to bring my passion for both mediums to VinePair.

In this monthly feature I’ll pair books with wine, explore wine and literature, and wines with literary-leanings (design-wise and otherwise). I’ll also include questions about both the book and the wine, in case you want to discuss them with your group! I hope that you’ll adopt both the book and the wine for your next book club, and then check back in to let me know how it all worked out.

As I’m on the topic of art, the first book I’ll pair is one that is focused on the idea of beauty and, through beauty, an exploration of life.

Several years ago, I came across Ben Lerner’s brilliant Leaving the Atocha Station (Coffee House Press) and was mesmerized by the writing and the artful link between the meanderings of his protagonist’s physical self and the meanderings of his mind. The exploration of beauty, art, technology, and translation left much to think about and, thanks to my book club, discuss.

The novel, set in Spain, takes readers on a journey through the eyes of Adam Gordon, a young American poet on a prestigious fellowship in Madrid. During his time in Spain, Adam meditates on the idea of the “profound,” on poetry itself, on the meaning of authenticity, emotion and art, and, not surprisingly, language and translation.

Bodegas VolverIf you’re looking for a compelling and thoughtful read and are ready for a little mental exercise — in my opinion, a perfect book club book — then I think you’re in for a treat.

Now for the wine. As the narrative of Lerner’s novel unfolds on a Spanish backdrop, a perfect pairing is a wine that hails from Spain, specifically a wine from Castilla-La Mancha, home to the famous literary figure Don Quixote. I recommend trying Bodegas Volver ‘Volver’ Single Vineyard Tempranillo. If you’re having trouble finding a wine from Castilla-La Mancha or my specific recommendation, just try to find a Spanish Tempranillo!

If you’re unfamiliar with Tempranillo, you may know the famous Spanish wine in which it is the key ingredient, Rioja. However, unlike Rioja, which can be quite expensive, quality Tempranillo can often be found for under $25. It’s a great wine to bring to a book club! You can let your book club know that if they haven’t had Tempranillo before, but enjoy Cabernet Sauvignon, then this is a great wine for them to try.

With Robert Louis Stevenson’s quote “Wine is bottled poetry” in mind, I can’t think of a more fitting beverage to drink with a book about a poet in Spain than Tempranillo.

Book Club Questions

From Coffee House Press

  1. At the beginning of the novel, Adam wonders if it’s possible to have a “profound experience of art” (p. 8). How does he continue to grapple with this question throughout the novel?
  2. The narrator’s poor Spanish often provides the reader with several possible translations for what is being said. His first conversation with Isabel (pp. 13-14) is one example. What is the effect of this?
  3. Although Adam is a first person narrator, he spends a lot of time imagining how other people see him. How does self-consciousness define his character? Are you able to see a “true” Adam behind his constructed image?
  4. Adam seems to become increasingly detached and mentally unstable as the novel progresses. How is this communicated to the reader? What events or realizations push him toward further instability?

Wine Questions

  1. Tempranillo is said to have aromas and flavors such as berries, plum, tobacco, vanilla, leather, and herbs. Do you smell or taste any of these flavors in the wine? If not, what other aromas and flavors are present for you? (Remember, every person will taste and smell different flavors based on their own repertoire of experiences.)
  2. Think about the wine in relation to Spain. What types of Spanish food do you think would taste good with this wine?
  3. Do you like it? Why or why not? No answer is wrong!