Book - #SaveTheCulture: Callahan's Crosstime Saloon


In our effort to #SaveTheCulture here at The DreamCage and keep what we consider to be important books in the public conscience, Romeo Kennedy nominated Susan Omand to read Callahan's Crosstime Saloon...

One thing I’ve learned as life goes on is that everyone needs to have a local pub. Somewhere they can wander into at any time of day and know there’ll be someone there that they can blether to, even if it’s just the guy behind the bar. I have been without a local for a good many years now and it is a gap in my life, that is, up until a few weeks ago when, thanks to a Cornish pisky lord, I got taken to a bar that has already become very comfortable and familiar for me and only has two issues with it. Firstly it’s in Long Island, New York and, secondly, it doesn’t exist.

Yes, for our Save the Culture campaign, Romeo Kennedy nominated me to read Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon by Spider Robinson and I immediately felt at home. The whole book is a collection of short stories based in the bar itself and featuring both the regular patrons and visitors to the place. The action never moves further than the car park so there’s no danger of getting lost in a sprawling environment and, as a reader, you soon develop a very strong bond with the regulars and the customs of the bar. You see, Callahan’s Place is no ordinary bar. It’s a place that people come for a shoulder to lean on and an ear to listen to their stories, but only if they want to talk – sharing your troubles is never enforced. The drinks only cost 50c (or a dollar if, like most folk, you smash your glass in the fireplace after offering up a toast to your demons) and almost everyone is welcomed. This includes extra terrestrials, time travellers, drug addicts, vampires and ministers and the talk amongst the regulars, when they’re not supporting troubled times, is often pun filled and apocryphal, all set to the background piano playing of Fast Eddie.

I am a huge fan of Robert Heinlein, and his influence on Robinson’s writing is immediate, as it has that same easy-going acceptance of the fact that not everything has to be explained, it just is, and you feel like everyone and everywhere is long established. I hesitate very much to use the word “cosy” but that’s pretty much what Callahan’s feels like – there’s no sense of danger or suspense while you’re there and, even though the customers’ stories draw you in, you know they are (mostly) tales being told by someone else and you are not under threat. But neither is it boring – the characters are all absolutely fascinating and everyone has a story to tell so it really is like sitting in the corner of a pub and just eavesdropping on conversations. I’m not going to spoil any of the stories, each of which have their own stand-alone chapter with regular characters wandering in and out throughout the book. All I will say is you have to find this book, this place, and sit at the bar and just listen as their world, and many others, goes on around you. I will be visiting there again, as much as I can.

For my own nomination, I must admit I was in a bit of a quandary for quite a while and for one simple reason - with my ...erm... eclectic bookshelves, I have too much choice! I could easily have carried on the science fiction route and opted for Heinlein or Asimov, or gone cyberpunk with William Gibson or Neal Stephenson. At the other end of the book case is a collection of crime and espionage novels from Grisham to Spillane via Fleming and le Carre and, somewhere in the middle there's historical, both in setting and significance, the classics and non-fiction. So what did I choose? In-keeping with the idea of important authors, I went with one of my favourite classic writers, but one often over-analysed in schools and deemed a "worthy" author, John Steinbeck. However, I didn't go with any of his 1930's "Dust Bowl" novels like Cannery Row, Of Mice and Men or Grapes of Wrath, nor even his epic East of Eden, made even more famous when the James Dean film came out. Instead it's one of his much later works, the novel that charts his 1960's American roadtrip, Travels With Charley, and it falls to the eloquent Robert Barton-Ancliffe to take that journey and report back. (Poodle optional.)

Follow Susan on Twitter @OmandOriginal