Cantor’s Dilemma by Carl Djerassi with English Breakfast Tea

Personally, I really enjoy Cantor’s Dilemma by Carl Djerassi,  but I can see why it may not be a favorite of some. The story hinges on your interest in the characters and the moral dilemmas of science. If you are looking for a plot driven novel, this is not a good selection. Other than a minor twist, the plot is fairly predictable.

The characters, however, are complex and engaging. The discussions on their motives for decisions are fascinating. I was particularly interested in Celly, Jean, and Leah’s conversations about being a woman in academia.

It is interesting to see how human nature, greed, and pride factor into the “search for truth.” Driven by the Nobel Prize, greed and pressure begin to cause even the best to falter. I found these moral dilemmas compelling and enjoyed contemplating them.

I recommend English Breakfast Tea with Cantor’s Dilemma by Carl Djerassi, a straightforward drink for a straightforward novel. If you decide to read this novel, take the time to consider the motives, arguements, and ethics. These dilemmas are what make this worth reading.

Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger with Whiskey Tea

I prefer knowing the general premise of a novel before I begin reading, but with Franny and Zooey, I literally had no idea what I was starting. This ignorance on my part (which would have been easily corrected had I not been lazy) left me lost for the first part of the novel. It turns out that Franny and Zooey are siblings in a pretty unique family.

Franny and Zooey had received a very unique education at the hands of their older brothers. This approach leaves them with a host of emotional, intellectual, and spiritual issues. Salinger, however, shows that regardless of our own imperfections and the imperfections of others, we must love people simply for being people. That message is powerful, easy to lose track of, and vitally important.

The story’s strength is in the sharp writing by J.D. Salinger. The dialogue between characters is witty and fast. The character and scene descriptions are vivid in their attention to small details and spotlighting of features. Small movements by characters give the characters life and personality. This is my first novel by Salinger and I’m looking forward to reading his other writings.

I paired this novel with whiskey tea because I felt like the characters all needed a drink in hand. They all smoke heavily and I continued to picture whiskey even though no drink was described. The smoothness and slight burning heat are a perfect companion to Franny and Zooey.

Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie with Iced Citrus Green Tea

Purple Hibiscus is the first novel by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. It is astonishing that it could be anyone’s debut novel. The characters are so alive that I felt I could reach out and touch them. The pain in the story builds itself inside of you until, like the characters, you burst from the sheer weight of it. Purple Hibiscus holds tension at familial, political, and religious levels. They weave together in an honest struggle for a family in Nigeria.

Kambili, a young teen, and her brother Jaja are the children of a wealthy and respected businessman. The story starts almost pleasantly but quickly the abuse becomes evident. Life is not as pleasant as it would originally seem. Religious fanaticism rules their lives and all of their relationships. I love how Adichie shows how it bleeds into all levels of Kambili’s life. Kambili is unable to communicate with others, worships and hates her father, struggles with understanding herself, and cannot even recognize the sound of her own laughter. Abuse and oppression are not contained, they bleed into every aspect of one’s life.

Kambili and Jaja are able to find freedom with their Aunt and cousins in Nsukka. The freedom they find there is what inspired my tea choice for the novel. When reading, Nsukka felt like a breath of fresh air on a stifling day and it iced citrus green tea gives me that same feeling. That refreshing nature is needed as pain continues to bloom for the characters. Adichie allows Kambili and Jaja to handle their pain differently as one character grows and the other becomes bitter.

Adichie is a uniquely talented author with a gift for making her characters fully human. Their pain, their flaws, their beauty, and their insecurities are developed naturally and fully until they fill the space next to you while you read.

Maya Angelou: The Complete Poetry with Sweet Tea

I read this entire collection of poetry in one sitting. I didn’t want to, I wanted to stop and ponder, but I couldn’t. I was too caught up in her voice and couldn’t bring myself to stop. I will admit that some of the poems went over my head. I’m sure they needed time to sit and be thought upon. Others were revelations that I read twice just to hear the truth or beauty come off the page.

I don’t recommend reading poetry quickly and I fully intended to read this collection again. Right now, I cannot pick a favorite. Maya Angelou writes with humanity, passion, love, anger, pain and hope. Her words speak to me differently at different times. I honestly don’t think I will ever have a favorite, but as a woman, it is nearly impossible not to love Phenomenal Woman. 

Read Maya Angelou. Read her slowly and soak in her words. Devour them like they will soothe your hunger. Read Maya Angelou.

Personally, I think sweet tea is a perfect compliment to poetry. Sweet yet bitter but always refreshing.

They Poured Fire On Us From The Sky with Rooibos Tea

This book, y’all. Three of the “Lost Boys” of the Sudan tell their stories of survival as they left their homes as young boys facing war, genocide, and almost certain death. It is so powerful to hear their perspective as children. Their stories left me broken and yet amazed at the strength of the human spirit.

These children faced circumstances that seem impossible to survive. They face their death repeatedly and somehow never lose the will to live. It reminded me that people can become used to anything. That human trait of accepting circumstances can be lifesaving, but it also has a very dark underbelly. Although the kindness of strangers often saved their lives, inconceivable acts of violence were the cause of their harm. At one point a man emptied his bowels on the bag of one of the boys and then started beating him. This type of cruelty was always explained as being a result of war.  It seems that humanity can become so used to the violence of war that it continues into all aspects of life.

I wonder too, about becoming too accustomed to comfort. Does that cause us to lose our ability to care for each other? The boys survived the refugee camp by caring for each other. Do we show that kind of care? We certainly are not showing that care for refugees or those suffering. This is not some distant piece of history and there are still Sudanese refugees living in refugee camps. What about refugees from Syria or other war-torn areas? How can we do more?

But, I am off topic. They Poured Fire On Us From The Sky is simply a must read and will obviously cause you do some serious thinking about humanity. I recommend reading it with Rooibos tea. The earthy vanilla is a perfect compliment to a book that leaves your tongue dry and your mouth yearning for a drink.

Vintage Hughes with Sweet Tea

I have read a few poems by  Langston Hughes in the past, but it was always a rushed experience. When I checked Vintage Hughes out of the library, I knew I needed to take my time and truly give my attention to the works of Langston Hughes. His poetry and short stories are lyrical, moving, and resonating.

Although I majored in English, poetry has never been my favorite. The more I focus on creativity, the more I enjoy it, but I am still new to enjoying poetry. Langston Hughes, however, writes in a style that is so alive and honest that it is impossible to not love it. Sometimes the poems are heartbreaking, other times inspiring, and most of the time just painfully honest. The three short stories are filled with perfect detail, beautifully deep characters, and plots that remain with you long after you have finished reading.

I recommend reading Hughes out-loud, the poetry is so rhythmic that something is missed if it is read silently. I read to myself in the car, in my back yard as my son played, snuggled in blankets on the couch and each place was filled with the truth of Hughes. It was cathartic to read out loud poetry that addresses racism while sitting in my yard in the South. These issues are still alive and it was good to speak the words and to feel their truth.

Read Hughes. Read Hughes out loud. Feel the rhythm and weight of his words.

I liked reading it with sweet tea because it’s summer in the South. The drink was refreshing and the writing was honest — it was a good combination.

Life of Pi by Yann Martel with Peppermint Tea

Life of Pi has been recommended to me repeatedly over the years. I could never get passed the lack of interest of in a boy and a tiger on a boat. I wasn’t buying the idea that it would make me think about religion or about what it means to be good. I was wrong, Life of Pi by Yann Martel is a truly gripping tale that has left me looking for answers.

The writing style is easy and comfortable, I was immediately sucked into the story. Martel manages to blend story and zoology into a surprisingly interesting narrative. Humor is introduced through organized religion and provides a lightness that is lost later in the story. Once the ship is sunk and life begins on the lifeboat the story takes a more serious turn.

I won’t say more for fear of giving the best part of the novel way, but I will say that the ending rocked my perspective. I have spent days pondering it and I’ve decided that since the story is now mine, I choose to be an optimist and enjoy a happy ending.

I chose to drink peppermint tea because I always find it so refreshing. Martel does such a marvelous job of portraying the misery experienced that my tongue often felt heavy with salt and dryness. Peppermint is deliciously refreshing and a perfect companion to Life of Pi.

The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie with Earl Grey Tea

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is one of my favorite authors because of her skill with creating characters. In The Thing Around Your Neck, Adichie manages to create characters that are rich, deep, real, and enticing in a few short pages. It is difficult to understand how she can create characters of such depth in short stories (some of which are only about ten pages). He

Adichie is unafraid of the honesty of being human. She never shies away from the dark and filthy parts of humanity. Her ability to tackle the unpleasantness is one of the reasons that her writing feels so honest. There is nothing fake or unbelievable about the stories. She never wraps up a story so that the characters feel stunted or impossible and that honesty is refreshing.

One of the characters mentions drinking Earl Grey and I found this a perfectly suitable choice for this collection of stories. I sweetened my Earl Grey with sugar and added a bit of milk to make the perfect reading companion. Pour yourself a cup of tea and enjoy this collection of stories by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

The Playboy of the Western World and Riders to the Sea by J.M. Synge with Irish Breakfast Tea

I first read these two little plays in an Irish Literature course in college. At the time, I struggled with the language and found them generally uninteresting. Although they are still not my favorite, I was able to better appreciate them this time.

The language, that I originally deemed difficult, is actually what I most appreciate about “The Playboy of the Western World.” The language forces itself into an Irish accent and forms the atmosphere of the play. Playboy is a comedy and really pokes fun at the Catholic Church which is seen in the main character being named Christy. I recommend reading the play with this in mind. I struggled with Christy being celebrated for “killing his da.” This strange premise is what makes this play difficult for me to enjoy.

“Riders to the Sea” is my favorite of the two plays. I prefer the characters of Riders over the characters in Playboy. In Riders, there is so much pain and loss and I appreciate the way this is reflected in the characters. This one act play is backed full of emotion and as a mother, I can’t imagine the pain of Maurya.

Both of these plays by J.M. Synge are an important part of Irish Literature and I recommend taking the time to read them. I want to see them performed as I feel they are probably more captivating when performed and I want to see Synge’s command of language actually spoken.

As these are Irish, it seems fitting to read them while sipping Irish Breakfast Tea. This is one of my favorite teas and is best with a little cream and sugar.

Desert Tracings Translated by Michael A. Sells with Peppermint Tea

Desert Tracings is a collection of six Arabian Odes. I first read this in college and was struck by the beauty of the poetry. This time reading through, I had a little more time to really absorb the poetry. The imagery is simply stunning. The beloved is described with a grace and sadness that is overpowering while scenes of battle are grotesque and horrifying. Beauty, violence, sadness and boast exist simultaneously and pull the emotions of the reader.

The introductions to the works provide helpful insights into the author and structure of the poem. I found it helpful to look up some of the animals referenced to help my mind better understand the intentions of the author. I often find myself pulling this book off the shelf just to read one of the poems and then slipping it back in its spot. There is just a beauty and strength that I love about these Arabian Odes.

I love sipping on peppermint tea while reading these. Personally, I prefer to make it myself by boiling black tea with a few fresh mint leaves and sugar. The brightness of the mint, the strength of the tea, and the sweetness of the sugar are perfect for this poetry.