Book and Bottle

Ashland author releases “Literary Libations”

By Maureen Flanagan Battistella

The new book “Literary Libations: What to Drink with When You Read” by Amira Makansi (Skyhorse Publishing, 2018) is a thoughtful picaresque written with just enough dry wit to bite through some of the pomp and circumstance of “Moby Dick” — paired with a Cab Sauv — or James Joyce’s “Ulysses” — made less incomprehensible with an Irish whiskey.

Amira Mankasi with her book, “Literary Libations: What to Drink When You Read,” at Larks in Ashland. ##Photo by Maureen Batiistella

The author believes a sense of wonderment can be evoked by a celebratory glass of Baijiu while reading tomes by Lisa See, and the Jasmine, a cocktail made of gin, Campari, Cointreau and lemon, echoes the subtle complexity of Daphne de Maurier’s “Rebecca.”

You’ll find pique and irritation, too, in “Literary Libations,” when Makansi pairs sour beer with “The Sword of Shannara,” raising the question of Brooks’ reuse of J.R.R. Tolkein’s themes, and the author’s almost comical pairing of Kombucha with “Go Ask Alice.”

The book’s 162 annotated entries match all sorts of beverages with some of the world’s most beloved titles. Lovely hand-drawn watercolors by artist Elena Makansi, Amira’s sister, lend vitality the work.

Collected loosely into thematic chapters, Mankasi makes it easy to focus on your favorite literary genre, while a well-constructed index helps you page to your favorite drink. You’ll find boozy chapters covering the classics, romance, mystery, speculative fiction and fantasy; there are even sans-booze chapters for kids and young adults.

Each entry offers a narrative describing the work, explaining and justifying the pairing and includes both ingredients and directions for concocting the drink. Makansi has read something of all of the works included, and over the last 10 years, has tasted all the drinks from her varied experiences in the beverage industry — in some of Chicago’s poshest restaurants, European wineries and tasting rooms and restaurants here in Oregon. Makansi’s approach is fearless, fun and, at times, autobiographical.

Makansi wrote “Literary Libations” while in Ashland. More than 27 entries feature wines. “I’m always thinking of Oregon wine because I’m surrounded by it, and I love that this region is so diverse,” she says. “You get such a broad swath of what the wine world is capable of, and it’s all right here.”

She pairs D.H. Lawrence’s “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” with an Oregon Chardonnay, writing, “one sip of those creamy sensual white wines will put you in the mind of Constance Chatterley’s sexual adventures.” Petite Sirah is paired with Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness.” She says, “Inky black in color and with rich, round, opulent flavors, this wine will carry you deep into the Congo.”

Two chapters feature alcohol-free beverages and books for kids, a simply brilliant idea because the sensory notes of taste and smell enhance memory, recall and nostalgia. For Makansi, some of her favorite memories are of sitting with her mother and learning to read “Fox in Socks” by Dr. Seuss and, later, “Lord of the Rings” by J.R.R. Tolkien

“When I was thinking about how to make those kids’ books approachable, since this is a book primarily for adults, well, you relate to these books through your children or you think about you, yourself reading these books as a child,” Mankasi explains. “Either way, it’s as an adult looking at these books through the perspective of a child.” These chapters have pairings and recipes for hot cocoa, Black English tea with cream and sugar, cider, alphabet soup and other childhood favorites.

While there have been a couple of book-beverage pairing works recently published, none compare with “Literary Libations.” Tim Federle’s “Tequila Mockingbird,” (Running Press, 2013) is a humorous work limited to cocktails with wacky, book-related names. “Shakespeare, Not Stirred” (Penguin, 2015) by Caroline Bicks and Michelle Ephraim is also limited to cocktails that play out life’s dramatic moments explained and embellished with the Bard’s most famous lines from the most tragic characters.

“Literary Libations” is different. It’s a readers’ guide of sorts for a new kind of book club, one that takes time to read and to ponder, establishing a safe and sophisticated setting for conversation and liquid refreshment experimentation. It makes a delicious and intoxicating holiday gift for those who have everything, those who love to read, professional and amateur mixologists both, and those who just enjoy relaxing with an imaginative drink.

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