By ILENE MANAHAN
BIANCA BOSKER: CORK DORK
The clever and humorous title of Bianca Bosker’s book, Cork Dork, set up her audience at Saturday’s Morristown Festival of Books for her lighthearted reflections on a topic she wound up taking as seriously as those about whom she wrote: Sommeliers.
How did that topic catch her attention? As technical editor of the Huffington Post, she spent hours watching what was occurring on the internet. One feature that jumped out was the Best Sommelier in the World Competition.
Why would anyone spend the time and money — time and money she estimated would rival attaining a law degree — to become what so many view as a “wine snob.”
Bosker became “obsessed with that obsession,” and had to answer that question. Could she become “one of them”?
She quit her journalism job, “much against the advice of all who love me” (presumably that included her husband, a Morristown native), and found becoming a Sommelier to be “serious business. You don’t just become one. You have to work for it.”
And that meant starting at the bottom, as a “cellar rat, the low of the low,” in a restaurant, running for bottles of wine and looking at labels.
At the same time, her journalistic instincts motivated her to learn all she could from those who had passed the grueling Master Sommelier exam, with its 95-percent failure rate.
Bosker found the majority had neither the time nor the confidence in her ability to learn the trade.
For example, she wanted to learn how to identify wines by their smells. Her approach was rejected by many based on the philosophy that one “can’t be taught. You have to be born this way.”
Not to be deterred in her mission, Bosker pursued her investigation of this mysterious band of wine maniacs.
“There’s no mania like a wine mania,” she maintains.
This included wine tastings where she found herself “seriously drunk by noon, hungover by 2 and napping by 4.”
She concluded she couldn’t continue that routine for long. But in the 2 1/2 years that she devoted to her Sommelier pursuits she managed to “pull the curtain back” on a trade that previously knew little transparency. She also made some enemies along the way for doing so.
No, Bosker did not become a Master Sommelier. But she did gain a new appreciation for drawing on all the senses — especially taste and smell – not just to enjoy wine more, but to more completely enjoy life.
As for the wine part of that equation, here is the key: “Drink what you like,” Bosker reports, because “there’s no consensus as to what make a ‘good’ wine.”
PAUL MULDOON, SELECTED POEMS: 1968-2014
Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Paul Muldoon couldn’t have selected a better way to introduce himself than with an autobiographical poem, in his singular poetic prose style, of his childhood in Northern Ireland.
Muldoon emigrated to the US in 1987, taught creative writing at Princeton University, and lived outside Princeton in an 18th Century home that had horsehair plaster walls, a feature so reminiscent of his native Ireland that he posited it might have been built by Irish workmen.
That was just one of many connections Muldoon made with his audience in the Morristown-Morris Township Library — itself a classic building that he took time to admire.
He turned to “roundabouts,” a.k.a. traffic circles, as he had navigated throughout the state, never quite knowing who was supposed to proceed first.
He read of in utero sonograms of his then unborn child, who looked like the map of Ireland with a “thumbs-up.” He took the audience on his trips to Cuba, and reflections on the Cuban Missile Crisis, including how it was perceived by his family in Ireland.
Muldoon’s style of writing and reading his poems, and his instant rapport with the audience, left attendees wanting to hear more from a chap who quickly become an old and endearing friend.
Fortunately, there is more to come.
Muldoon and his wife, best-selling New York Times author Jean Hanff Korelitz — who participated on a Festival fiction panel discussing politics and family frictions in her book, The Devil and Webster — adapted and are co-producing The Dead, 1904, based on James Joyce’s The Dead, for New York’s Irish Repertory Theatre.