Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air

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5.0 Stars

When Breath Becomes Air is heartbreakingly beautiful. A young neurosurgeon with a love for literature is diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer and in his attempt to understand morality and death, he teaches us how to live.

Kalanithi’s identity in this book is as both doctor and patient or as he puts it, as subject and then direct object. He gives readers an insight into his experiences and opinions as a doctor. Then, once diagnosed, he struggles with the idea of how to live. He says, “The future I had imagined, the one just about to be realized, the culmination of decades of striving, evaporated.” Always eloquent, Kalanithi recounts his struggles and his decisions. A great example, and one that I believe bears witness to the depth of his character and his capacity to live, is when he and his wife discuss if they should have a child:

” ‘Will having a newborn distract from the time we have together?’ She asked. ‘Don’t you think that goodbye to your child will make your death more painful?’

‘Wouldn’t it be great if it did?’ I said. Lucy and I both felt that life wasn’t about avoiding suffering.”

The hard choices that he had to face and the love and grief that are intermingled will bring you to tears many times throughout his book, but still, read on. Philosophical, raw, eloquent and powerful, this book’s premise is about facing death and about leaving something behind; yet what we really learn is how to live: ceaselessly striving.

Favorite quotes:

“When there’s no place for the scalpel, words are the surgeon’s only tool.”

“I don’t think I ever spent a minute of any day wondering why I did this work, or whether it was worth it. The call to protect life – and not merely life but another’s identity; it is perhaps not too much to say another soul – was obvious in its sacredness.”

“I searched for a question to bring understanding. None was forthcoming. I could only imagine the overwhelming guilt, like a tidal wave, but had lifted him up and off that building.” – describing how he felt when he found out a friend and colleague had committed suicide by jumping off the roof of the hospital.

“The secret is to know that the deck is stacked, that you will lose, that your hands or judgment will slip, and yet still struggle to win for your patients. You can’t ever reach perfection, but you can believe in an asymptote toward which you are ceaselessly striving.”

“What happened to Paul was tragic, but he was not a tragedy. I expected to feel only empty and heartbroken after Paul died. It never occurred to me that you could love someone the same way after he was gone, that I could continue to feel such love and gratitude alongside the terrible sorrow, the grief so heavy that in times I shiver and moan under the weight of it.” – Lucy, Paul’s wife

I’m pairing this book with Boulevard Brewing‘s Tell-Tale Tart, a slightly sour ale. I chose this brew because even though not everyone enjoys a sour ale, the tartness seemed to fit this sorrowful yet powerfully inspirational book. Add that the name of the brew is a play on words regarding literature, Poe’s Tell-Tale Heart, and it seemed like the perfect pairing for Kalanithi since he was a lover of literature. He majored in English literature before turning to neurosurgery and always struggled with what to do first – medicine or writing. It’s clear that he was accomplished at both. As we see from this book, he was a brave and brilliant man. It was only time that was against him.

Format: Hardcover.

JK Rowling, John Tiffany and Jack Thorne’s Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

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5 Stars!

Warning: This review contains minor spoilers.

For all the people who are criticizing this book because they were expecting a full-fledged novel, they need to chill. This book is written by three people. It is a screenplay. It is not your typical, traditional Harry Potter story. Because it is a screenplay, I thought I wouldn’t be able to immerse myself in the narrative the same way I would with fiction. I was pleasantly surprised that this was not the case. Once I got into this book, I could not stop. The world of Harry Potter is so rich and multifaceted, it’s hard to not love the story.

When I first heard about this book, I wondered how 19 years in the future would look as far as the narrative of conflict; Harry was constantly battling Voldemort and his Death Eaters. Who was this new character, Albus, supposed to have a conflict with? How was it going to hook us? Well, ingeniously, they decided to go into the past. Instead of creating some new and necessary evil, they try to take us back to right a wrong, to fix the grievance. The reason I’ll argue that this worked so well is because we get to encounter all our most beloved and most hated characters. Permitting the reader to go back in time, allows us to meet these wonderful and wonderfully awful characters, which brings about a sense of nostalgia and makes us recount all the feelings we had while reading the previous Potter books. There are certain tropes and scenes throughout the play that are reflective of the Potter series as a whole. They make the reader remember the previous books and it serves to highlight the enjoyment of this new addition. Case in point: in the third book when the dementor comes after Harry, as he is being attacked, he hears his mother’s scream; and it is haunting. In The Cursed Child, Harry, at forty-something years old, has to hear that scream again and it is devastating. It’s moments like these that made me love this book.

Now, some argue that this play is too much like bad fanfiction. For the people insisting that this is too much like a fanfiction, let’s be clear: it is not a fan fiction. Period. JK Rowling approves this message. This is the path Rowling decided the story should take; therefore it cannot be a fanfic. Those who are insisting it is a fanfic simply do not want to accept that this is the path the author has chosen for these characters. Perhaps, also, it is their first time reading a screenplay. It’s easy to see how presenting the story in this medium could make it difficult for the reader and impede them from fully appreciating it. That being said, it is well-written and the characters are fleshed out. So, if anything, it’s good fanfiction.

In conclusion, I adored this book. It was a great installment for the Potter series and a fun bonus read. There was enough wit and courage and tears that made this book genuine. I don’t want to give too many spoilers away, but there were certain scenes involving old and new characters that will make you catch your breath in sorrow or in glee. Ron remains the humorous one; Hermoine the smart one, and Harry, well; he’s the one who never fights alone.

Some of my favorite quotes:

Draco (referring to his wife): she made being brave very easy, your mother.

Scorpius (showing bravery and selflessness worthy of Gryffindor): The world changes and we change with it. I am better off in this world. But the world is not better. And I don’t want that.

Draco (speaking to Harry about their sons): We have to find them – if it takes centuries, we must find our sons”

Harry (responding to Draco): love blinds. We have both tried to give our sons, not what they needed, but what we needed.

Harry (this line is easily the one that encompasses what the entire Potter series is about): I’ve never fought alone, you see. And I never will.

I read this book while listening to the movie soundtracks to increase the magic and my reading pleasure. I was originally going to make a copycat alcoholic Butterbeer recipe (find those in link below). When we think of drinks in the Wizarding World, it’s limited to Butterbeer, Pumpkin juice and ginger beer. While we can certainly make DIY copycat recipes, I wanted to find a beer that had a nice caramel, buttery, sweet flavor reminiscent of Butterbeer but more grown up (aka:with a good deal of hops). Three liquor stores later, I found Abita ‘s Amber and it is the perfect pairing for this book. Amber is a Munich style lager brewed with pale and caramel malts. It has a smooth, malty, lightly caramel flavor and a rich amber color that will remind you of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter’s Butterbeer without being too sweet. It’s the perfect beer for this read, so go pick up a bottle and get to reading Harry Potter and the Cursed Child!

Butterbeer recipes: Here
Format: Hardcover.

I Am the Beggar of the World: Landays from Contemporary Afghanistan

Translated By: Eliza Griswold
Photographs By: Seamus Murphy

5.0 Stars

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Landays are two line poems that have always been an oral tradition in Afghanistan. If you’ve read Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns or Malala Yousafzai’s I Am Malala then you’ve unwittingly read Afghan Landays. Landays are deeply embedded in the oral traditions of womenfolk in this region of the world. The couplets are passed down and around from woman to woman. They speak on Love, Grief, Separation, War and Homeland. The most important aspect of this tradition is that it is anonymous. In a region where women can be punished for speaking out against the societal norms and for even writing poetry, they subvert the patriarchy by spreading anonymous oral poetry, Landays.

After learning of a teenage girl who was forbidden to write poems and burned herself in protest, journalist Eliza Griswold and photographer Seamus Murphy journeyed to Afghanistan to investigate her death and explore the role Landays play in contemporary life. The poems they put together in this book are accompanied by more than fifty photographs, collectively expressing rage, love, war, despair, and humor; belying the misconception of women being servile mutes behind their burqas.

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I found these Landays to be passionate and clever. The couplet form allows for a concise expression of thought. A few of my favorites are as follows:

“When sisters sit together, they always praise their brothers. / When brothers sit together, they sell their sisters to others.”

“You sold me to an old man, father. / May God destroy your home; I was your daughter.”

“In my dream, I am the president. / When I awake, I am the beggar of the world.”

“Widows take sweets to a saint’s shrine. / I’ll bring God popcorn and beg him to take mine.”

“Separation, you set fire / in the heart and home of every lover.”

I chose to pair this book with Coppertail Brewing‘s Unholy Trippel, a Belgo-American Trippel that finishes smoothly and is immensely drinkable. There are hints of citrus and fruit that make for a nice finish.

Julia Serano’s Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity

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Serrano’s Whipping Girl is a very personalized and informative discussion on gender identity. Serrano explains the language of gender and the many factors that make up our expectations of gender. Serrano goes into length about femininity, trans-misogyny, and sexism. She explores what it means to be a transwoman and how they are treated. Her knowledge coupled with her clear writing style makes this book an enjoyable read. It is the best educational text for trans-allies or anyone hoping to learn a little more about the people around them. At times, I found all the new language overwhelming. It makes me a little nervous thinking and learning about these issues as a trans-ally. If it’s so confusing for me, how do I advocate effectively for the community that I support? So much about the LGBTQ is based on ignorance and misunderstanding. The ongoing battle to change or enlighten people’s pre-established biases is frustrating.

Quotes: “It is no longer enough for feminism to fight solely for the rights of those born female.”
“And while we credit previous feminist movements for helping to create a society where most sensible people would agree with the statement ‘Women and men are equals,’ we lament the fact that we remain light-years away from being able to say that most people believe that femininity is masculinity’s equal.”

I’m pairing this book with Goose Island’s saison, Sofie. I love saisons and this style alesofie drinks pleasingly when reading a book that will leave you feeling confused but informed. Oh, the things you didn’t know you didn’t know. Let your beer be a comfort to you as you try to sort out cissexuals, oppositional sexism, traditional sexism, gender hierarchies and femininity in feminism. Good luck!

Beer Photo Credit: Beer Metal Dude
Format: Paperback.

Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things to Me

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5.0 Stars

When I chose this book I thought it seemed like it would be hilarious. I was assuming it was just a humorous spoof of a book. I was pleasantly surprised that it was much more than that.

Solnit says it best herself, “when I sat down and wrote the essay ‘Men Explain Things to Me,’ here’s what surprised me: though I began with a ridiculous example of being patronized by a man, I ended with rape and murders.”

Solnit’s essays encompass more than just the basic “mansplaining” that most women are familiar with. She gives us a brief look into the history of gender roles and the concealment women have struggled with and how feminism has done much to help us walk a road toward equality.

Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist has been touted as the perfect “intro to feminism” text, but I believe Rebecca Solnit’s essays in this book give a vastly more comprehensive look into the lives and struggles of women and in explaining the importance feminism has played in giving us a road to equality.

unnamedFunky Buddha‘s Floridian Hefeweizen pairs nicely with this book. This golden brew has aromas of bananas, citrus, and cloves that lends a calming haze while drinking it.

Beer Photo Credit: Columbus Beer Scene
Format: Paperback.

Louise Erdrich’s Love Medicine

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5 STARS

I absolutely loved this book.Written in somewhat of the same vein as One Hundred Years of Solitude and House of Spirits, Love Medicine follows a family line that is connected through heartache, betrayal, and love.

Erdrich focuses on a community of women who do what is needed to provide for their families and keep some sense of order in their communities and their own lives despite the greed and the sabotage of the men around them. Although it appears these women lead chaotic lives, they remain the glue that keeps the tribe together. The themes of love, grief, strength, and motherhood can be explored through the lives of Marie Lazarre Kashpaw, Lulu Nanapush Lamartine, and June Morrissey (these are my girls, yo).

Marie Kashpaw is my favorite character. She has quotes that slay; one example: “I don’t pray. When I was young, I vowed I never would be caught begging God. If I want something I get it for myself” I love this so much, I guess because it reminds me of what my mother has always taught my sisters and me, and that is to not wait for help. Help yourselves.

Erdrich is a magician. She weaves an amazing story that fatally hits you in the chest and brutally crushes your soul. Her prose is beautiful and honest. I have no other words than, read it.

I paired Love Medicine with my own medicine (you like that? Haha): Rogue‘s Yellow Snow IPA. It has a hoppy, citrusy scent with a deep-rooted bitterness. I am very picky with IPAs but I enjoyed this one. The lingering bitterness reminds me of how this book kept me thinking long after I finished it. I am a Rogue fan girl so this is slightly biased (“Slightly” because I fucking loathe their attempt at whiskey, ugh. No one’s perfect).

Format: Paperback.