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.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates with Coffee

I don’t know that I am qualified to write a review on this powerful book. I am not the target audience but I may be the audience that most needs to read Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. The author writes this short read as a letter to his son and it felt like overhearing a personal conversation. I felt like I was peering through a window into a world in which a don’t belong. It was beautiful, powerful, heartbreaking, and enlightening.

Coates writes in no-punches-held style while keeping a style that is almost lyrical. I literally just put the book down, but I already feel like I need a second reading. So much of the book is quotable and all of it is powerful.

Read this slowly. Digest each piece you are given. Drink some coffee and let Ta-Nehisi Coates influence you.

 

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.

High Tide in Tucson by Barbara Kingsolver with Ginger Tea

Barbara Kingsolver is one of my favorite authors because her writing is alive. Her voice jumps off the page making it feel like she is a treasured friend sitting down to talk. When reading Kingsolver, I find myself treasuring my reading time the way I treasure time spent with friends.

High Tide in Tucson, is a collection of essays by Kingsolver that were at times uplifting, occasionally heartbreaking, and always brutally impactful. I kept trying to decide which essay was my favorite, but it became impossible to choose. I cannot even lay out a few favorites because the list quickly grows too long to be useful or meaningful. I will say that these touched me as a mother, an appreciator of written word, a woman, and a human.

If you have ever read anything by Barbara Kingsolver, then you know that you just read anything you find written by her. I don’t need to tell you to read High Tide in Tucson. If, however, you have never read Barbara Kingsolver then, by all means, get started. I sipped a cup of ginger tea because it provides a sense of warm but brutal honesty.

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.