Poetry Speaks Who I Am with English Breakfast Tea

I picked Poetry Speaks Who I Am up at the library because I thought it would be great practice with the students I tutor. The book comes with a cd with recordings of the poets reading their poems. I love to hear a poem read by the original poet because then you are hearing it the way they hear it in their heads.

I ended up sitting down and reading this entire collection of poetry in one sitting. It is designed for middle school and high school students, but can certainly be enjoyed by an adult reader. Some of the poems brought back emotions and worries that I haven’t experienced in years, while others were still very relevant to my life.

This was not a life altering or shattering collection of poems, but I can see that it may be for a young adult struggling with those uncertain years. I sipped some English Breakfast tea because it was my favorite when I was in school. I truly enjoyed the nostalgia brought on by poems like “In the Fifth Grade Locker Room” and “Baseball”.

Cane River by Lalita Tademy with Sweet White Tea and Oranges

This book was recommended to me by a friend, and although it seemed like a book that I would love, I just kept carrying it around. I would pull it off the shelf intending to read it but after carrying it for awhile and never cracking the cover, it would end up back on the shelf. Once I finally started reading, however, I couldn’t put it down.

Cane River by Lalita Tademy has a truly unique premise. The author did research into her own family history and then crafted a novel based on what she learned about her own family line. It traces a line of strong women that starts in slavery and ends in the 1930s.

The strength of these women is intoxicating. They face pains that I cannot even fathom and yet because of the bonds of family and their own persevering personalities they bring about their own happiness and satisfaction.

I literally did not want to put this book down and found myself fighting for time to read it. A story of strong women, race, and family ties, this book is a must read. I read it with sweet white tea and oranges.

The sweet white tea is made with white tea but made the same a traditional sweet tea. oranges are then quartered and added to the brew. Left to set the tea takes on a beautiful citrus twist. The tea is strong and the oranges fresh, a perfect mix for the strength and beauty found in Cane River. 

Red Holler: Contemporary Appalachian Literature edited by John Branscum and Wayne Thomas with a Beer

Red Holler is a book that my professor in college was working on when I graduated, so naturally, when I found it at the library I had read it. It’s an anthology of Appalachia literature edited by John Branscum and Wayne Thomas. I found myself moved by many of the included pieces as they showed the good, the bad, and the pride that is often found in Appalachia.

I was pleasantly surprised by the love shown towards a strong, stubborn, and in many ways difficult section of the United States. Appalachia is shaped by poverty, weather, and sheer determination. Red Holler was careful to show these aspects with the humanity and personality of the people.

If you grew up in Appalachia read it to be reminded why your home is unique. If you are curious or judgemental towards Appalachia and its people then read it to become aware of the strength and softness that exist there.

A cup of tea just didn’t cut it when it came to reading Red Holler. Instead, I settled in with a Blue Moon and it fit Appalachian literature better than tea ever could. If, however, you don’t want to drink a beer then I recommend iced tea. I grew up with it being brewed in a huge mason jar on the front porch.

 

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.

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 English Patient by Michael Ondaatje with Earl Grey Tea

I decided to read The English Patient after reading Ondaatje’s In the Skin of a Lion because they share the same characters. Ondaatje’s style is so poetic and sensual that it was powerful to have the backstory for the characters. Although the novels are not dependent on each other, there is a benefit to having a deeper or richer connection to the characters.

Ondaatje asks a lot of his readers. His stories are not plot driven and do not adhere to any timeline but instead follow more in the way of memories that you drop in and out of at his whim. Although this can make the novel difficult to follow at moments,  it generally gives an organic and real feel to the novels. When you recall memories they are not often chronological or uninterrupted and his characters meet these same dilemmas. It allows the characters to be more flawed, more honest, and more human.

I love the way Ondaatje gently touches on issues of a war-torn world, while still focusing solely on the emotions of the four main characters. The war is there in every detail, damaged buildings, danger in just walking and living in mined lands, corpses, morphine addictions, loss, and suffering. These things surround the characters and their every move and yet do not overrun the novel – it still remains human, poetic, and sensual.

The most powerful moments for me were when Ondaatje confronts issues of race. The sapper opens this discussion and his experiences are there to be painfully digested. The race issues climax with the bombing of Hiroshima. This part of history is always gut-wrenching painful and Ondaatje’s handling of it is yet another viewpoint and another way for your heart to break while your anger burns at the injustice.

The English Patient is not a simple chronological read but instead a book that must be read with the heart or the soul. Don’t expect to be carried along by a streamlined plot but instead by the beauty of the words and the humanity of the characters.

I recommend earl grey tea with The English Patient.  Earl grey is strong while remaining tender, dark yet brightened by that floral citrus, and that mending of dark and light fits well with this novel by Michael Ondaatje.

In the Skin of a Lion by Michael Ondaatje with Whiskey Flavored Tea

Michael Ondaatje is a poet and In The Skin of a Lion is beautifully poetic. The writing is non-linear. At times, the jumps in time caught me off guard and I would have to re-read a section to catch my bearings. I wasn’t sure, at first, how I felt about the jumps in time, I thought it would interrupt or confuse, but I found myself pulled along by the poetry of the storytelling. I didn’t even mind needing to stop and sort out the plot.

My favorite part of the story was Ondaatje’s portrayal of the beauty in work. I grew up in a family of construction workers and farmers and I always saw a strong beauty in their labor. Ondaatje shows the grime, the work, the sweat, the precision, the human in the work. In one of my favorite passages, he describes the dyers of leather in such beauty and color that I could imagine a painting of them. He doesn’t glorify the worker but just makes the beauty and human visible.

Ondaatje also does a powerful job of portraying the immigrant and the role of language. At one point Patrick, the main character, walks through the streets not sharing the language. The power of silence, the power of shared languages like laughter, the power of culture is shown in Ondaatje’s writing. The immigrant is shown as the heart of the city and the outsider blended as one. This portrayal felt honest without bitterness and loving without false optimism.

I can’t recommend this book saying that you will love it. I can see how it could be hated or loved until the pages wear thin. I forsee a second reading in my future and when I read it, I will drink whiskey flavored tea. In The Skin of a Lion doesn’t shy away from the grit of life and whiskey flavored tea always suits that attitude well.

 

The Awakening by Kate Chopin with Heather Tea

Kate Chopin explores feminism by challenging what it means to be a woman. I have heard many criticisms of this novel based, almost solely, on if the reader liked the character of Edna. It seems unforgivable to many that she abandons her children or desires the affections of someone other than her husband.

I saw Edna’s desires as challenging the stereotypes laid out for women. It was refreshing to see a woman want more than just the domestic parts of life. Chopin’s novel is about a woman realizing the desires of her heart and not just the desires given to her by society. Edna is able to awaken to herself, but that awakening is not beautiful, it is painful. I love that Chopin honestly addressed this pain instead of pretending that finding oneself and challenging society would be pleasant.

This novel is about an internal struggle, it is not full of action or events. Be ready to read more with your heart than your head. Try to understand and sympathize with Edna and try not judge. Chopin addresses some of the darker aspects of being female and that requires understanding instead of judgment.

I enjoyed heather tea while reading The Awakening, I loved the contrast of the black tea with the hints of floral. I think it blends well with the condition of Edna’s soul. Enjoy this strong tea while you gently examine Edna.

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd with Sleepytime Tea

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd is honey – sweet, healing, comforting. Sue Monk Kidd tackles a story of a broken and motherless girl, the warmth of female bonding, grief and all of this against the backdrop of the civil rights movement in the south.

I always find myself totally in love and absorbed by books that shed light on the love, healing, and power that can come from the bond between females. Often we are told how women tear each other apart, and too often we do, but there are also restorative bonds among women. Stories that highlight those bonds are important to the way we as women learn to relate to each other. Sue Monk Kidd establishes this bond across races. I think this message is vitally important in a world that is so divided. People need a reminder that the bonds of humanity are not limited by skin color.

This book has so much depth of meaning that I cannot lay it out here in the review. I will say that appreciated the tender nature that Kidd used when addressing the south. She humanized a dark time, as racism brought out the worst in people while showing the beauty and kindness that still exists. The south is a living oxymoron full of hospitality and hatred.

I spent most of this book sipping sleepytime tea overloaded with honey. I was drinking this mostly because I’m fighting off some virus, but it was a sweet and healing combination with The Secret Life of Bees. Honey is the first image that appears to me when I think of this book. Honey is healing and this book talks to me of the healing nature of female bonding. The sweetness and comfort of relationships are like sipping on warm honey tea.