Café au Lit: Coffee and Book Pairings

It’s the most wonderful time of the year: hot drink season. When the weather turns cold, I stock my cabinet with dessert-flavored black teas and mocha mixes, and I chill sweet, chocolatey stouts and porters in my fridge. For many of us, it’s the perfect time to curl up with a favorite drink and a good book. (Or Netflix. No judgment.)

I’ve been doing my part to encourage this pastime with Books Over Coffee, a monthly book club where I tasked myself with pairing bags of ground coffee with whatever title we’re reading. It’s a little challenging and a whole lot of fun, and a coworker suggested I share the combinations I came up with. I hope you enjoy them as much as I enjoyed sampling the candidates.

Read: The Overstory by Richard Powers 

Drink: Birds & Beans Wood Thrush medium roast from Birds & Beans 

Bird-friendly coffee like Birds & Beans is grown under the shade of trees and doesn’t contribute to deforestation. It’s a fitting brew to sip while reading Richard Powers’ epic love letter to trees, which spans the lives of nine characters and about 23 hours of listening time for you fellow audiobook fans. Settle down, brew yourself a pot, and imagine you’re sitting at the base of your childhood tree as you start the narrative’s journey.

Read: A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay 

Drink: Dark Magic dark roast from Green Mountain Coffee Roasters 

Dark Magic is a staple of Keurig machines everywhere – just like how demon possession is a long-running horror trope. And to horror nerds like me, there’s something magical about the meta-narrative on the genre that you’ll find within the pages of A Head Full of Ghosts. The story is creepy enough on its own, but the references to Shirley Jackson, H.P. Lovecraft, The Exorcist, and contemporary horror writers will raise your spirits like a strong, hot drink on a cold winter night. If you love darkness, you’ll enjoy this unholy matrimony of book and brew.

Read: Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett 

Drink: Black and Tan from Eight O’Clock Coffee Company 

Angels and demons, good and evil, stark prophecy and satiric comedy are blended together in Good Omens, a collaboration from two prominent fantasy authors. It’s only fitting to accompany it with the bold and mild blend of Black and Tan. The laugh-out-loud jokes are delightful dollops of cream and sugar – and when you’ve drunk the last drop, you can have a second helping by watching the Amazon Prime miniseries.

Read: Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay 

Drink: Veranda Blend blonde roast from Starbucks 

Like the aesthetics of those blonde, sun-kissed Californian twins in the Sweet Valley High books, books which Roxane Gay devoured as a teen and scrutinized with her cultural commentary as an adult author, I find light roasts bland, ubiquitous, and unsatisfying. (If I’m feeling especially contrarian, I might say the same about Starbucks as an institution.) My distaste for light roasts – and the marketing for this one nods to both unattainable beauty standards and classism! – makes it the perfect tag-along while Gay pokes holes in pop culture, politics, feminism, and other topics in this book of essays.

In all fairness to Veranda Blend, this month’s book club hasn’t met yet, so I haven’t tried it. The blend may throw me a major twist like the best thrillers, or offer me that cloying tannic quality euphemized as “fruitiness,” like a well-reviewed literary novel that falls short of expectations. What will you be sipping when you curl up with your next read? (Or Netflix. No judgment.)

Eight Entertaining Reads for Hanukkah

Hanukkah is here! Here are 8 fun books for kids and adults to celebrate the season.

KIDS:

How Do Dinosaurs Say Happy Chanukah? by Jane Yolen and Mark Teague. Illustrations and rhyming text present some of the different ways a well-behaved dinosaur can celebrate the eight days and nights of Chanukah. By the award-winning team behind the internationally best-selling How Do Dinosaurs…? series.

Meet the Latkes by Alan Silberberg. Lucy Latke’s family is a family of potato pancakes. After lighting the menorah and gobbling the gelt, Grandpa Latke tells everyone the Hanukkah story, but it’s up to the Latke family dog to set the record straight.

The Ninth Night of Hanukkah by Erica S. Perl. It’s Hanukkah, and Max and Rachel are excited to light the menorah in their family’s new apartment. Unfortunately, their Hanukkah box is missing! Luckily, their neighbors happily help, offering thoughtful, often humorous, stand-ins each night. Just as Hanukkah is nearly done, Max and Rachel, inspired by the shamash (‘helper’) candle, have a brilliant idea: to celebrate the Ninth Night of Hanukkah as a thank you to everyone!

The Golden Dreidel by Ellen Kushner. After receiving a one-of-a-kind Chanukah gift—an enormous golden dreidel—Sara discovers that there’s much more to the dreidel than meets the eye when she spins herself into a whole new world and must rely on her courage to find her way back home.

Chelm for the Holidays by by Valerie Estelle Frankel. Celebrating Jewish holidays has never been sillier than in Chelm, the Village of Fools! While the Chelmites try to solve problems—like outsmarting bees to get Rosh Hashanah honey, and keeping Hanukkah menorah candles lit without enough oil—their foolishness causes even more chaos.

ADULTS

Holiday by Candlelight by Laurel Greer. Is a Hanukkah miracle right around the corner? This year, Dr. Caleb Matsuda could do without holiday cheer. After an avalanche robbed him of his ability to practice surgery, he struggles to make it through each day. He may be intrigued by new colleague Garnet James, but she’s also a search-and-rescue volunteer who could be in danger at any moment. If only she wasn’t perfect for the man he used to be…

The Matzah Ball by Jean Meltzer. When her publisher insists that she write a Hanukkah romance, Rachel Rubenstein-Goldblatt, a Jewish woman with a secret career as a Christmas romance novelist, unexpectedly finds inspiration when she encounters a childhood acquaintance at the Matzah Ball, a Jewish music celebration on the last night of Hanukkah.

The Intimacy Experiment by Rosie Danan. The co-founder of a popular sex-education platform joins forces with a young rabbi who would save his cash-strapped synagogue to host a seminary series on modern intimacy. This book includes a thoughtful look at faith, and a romance featuring a rabbi!

Books With a Twist

You’re going along, innocently reading your novel, when suddenly the earth shifts beneath you – an unexpected plot twist! You thought you were reading one thing, but suddenly everything you thought you knew goes out the window. If you love a book that surprises you, that turns you inside out and upside down, that makes you toss it down and say “what just happened?“, then we have some reading recommendations for you.

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie. In this classic with a kick, en people, each with something to hide, are invited to an isolated mansion on Indian Island by a host who, surprisingly, fails to appear. One by one, the guests reveal the darkest secrets of their wicked pasts. And one by one, they die…

The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen. When you read this book, you will make many assumptions. You will assume you are reading about a jealous ex-wife. You will assume she is obsessed with her replacement – a beautiful, younger woman who is about to marry the man they both love. You will assume you know the anatomy of this tangled love triangle. Assume nothing. 

You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott. When a violent death rocks her close-knit gymnastics community weeks before an important competition, the mother of an Olympic hopeful works frantically to hold her family together in spite of being irresistibly drawn to the crime.

One of the Girls by Lucy Clarke. While on a sun-soaked Greek island for a bachelorette party to celebrate Lexi’s upcoming wedding, six very different women discover that someone is determined to make sure Lexi’s marriage never happens—and that one of them won’t leave the island alive.

Rock Paper Scissors by Alice Feeney. Every anniversary Adam and Amelia exchange traditional gifts–paper, cotton, pottery, tin–and each year Adam’s wife writes him a letter that she never lets him read. Until now. Ten years of marriage. Ten years of secrets. And an anniversary they will never forget.

The Girl From Widow Hills by Megan Miranda. Rendered famous in childhood for her miraculous survival of a dangerous storm, a young woman changes her name and struggles to hide from the media before waking up one evening to find a corpse at her feet. And then the fun begins.

Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough. The secretary of a successful psychiatrist is drawn into the seemingly picture-perfect life of her boss and his wife before discovering a complex web of controlling behaviors and secrets that gradually reveal profound and dangerous flaws in the couple’s relationship.

Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane. U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels and his partner, Chuck Aule, come to Shutter Island’s Ashcliffe Hospital in search of an escaped mental patient, but uncover true wickedness as Ashcliffe’s mysterious patient treatments propel them to the brink of insanity. The basis for a motion picture directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Leonardo DiCaprio.

Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson.

Without her husband’s knowledge, Christine, whose memory is damaged by a long-ago accident, is treated by a neurologist who helps her to remember her former self through journal entries until inconsistencies begin to emerge, raising disturbing questions.

Into the Water by Paula Hawkins. When a single mom and a teen girl are found murdered at the bottom of a river in a small town weeks apart, an ensuing investigation dredges up a complicated local history involving human instincts and the damage they can inflict. By the bestselling author or another twisty novel, The Girl on the Train.

Quick Reads for Your Fast Paced Life

Lots of people start the summer with impressive reading plans. But as we know, life is busy, and finding time to read can often be a challenge. If you think it’s hard to find something of quality to read that’s under 200 pages, you’re not alone, but guess what? There are a lot of quick reads at CPL that are also good books. You could read any of these in a weekend, keep a few on hand to read when you get a few minutes of downtime. Summer Reading for the win!

  1. The Grownup by Gillian Flynn (63 pages). No time for Gone Girl? This Edgar Award winning short story by the same author is creepy goodness, compacted.
  2. Train Dreams by Denis Johnson (116 pages). Suffused with the history and landscapes of the American West, this book captures the disappearance of a distinctly American way of life.
  3. The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka (129 pages). Follows the stories of six Japanese mail-order brides whose new lives in early twentieth-century San Francisco.
  4. Heather, the Totality by Matthew Weiner (138 pages.) The story of a collision course between a dangerous young man and a privileged couple who compete for their daughter’s attention.
  5. We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson (146 pages). A deliciously unsettling novel about a perverse, isolated, and possibly murderous family and the struggle that ensues when a cousin arrives at their estate. A classic.
  6. Sisters by Lily Tuck (156 pages). A new wife struggles with her unrelenting obsession with her husband’s first wife.
  7. Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata (163 pages). A Japanese woman who has been working at a convenience store for eighteen years finds friendship with an alienated, cynical, and bitter young man who becomes her coworker.
  8. Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf (179 pages). A bittersweet yet inspiring story of a man and a woman who, in advanced age, come together to wrestle with the events of their lives and their hopes for the imminent future.
  9. The Vegetarian by Han Kang (188 pages). A darkly allegorical tale of a woman who decides to stop eating meat, is denounced a subversive, and becomes estranged from those closest to her.
  10. Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong (196 pages). Newly dumped by her fiance, Ruth moves back in with her parents, whose decline is both comical and poignant.

Short Stuff

I’d like to read more, but I don’t have time to read a long, involved story.

There’s a solution for that. It’s called a short story.

 Short stories are those that can be read in under an hour – often not more than 5,000 words (beyond 7,500 is called a novella, and they are often published alone in little books, like Stephen King’s The Shawshank Redemption,  J.A. Jance’s The Old Blue Line, or Shirley Goodness and Mercy by Debbie Macomber) and they are often grouped together in anthology volumes, anthology meaning, literally, a collection of stories, the same way a CD album is a collection of individual songs.

Short stories are an art form of their own, still carrying the same structures of their longer novel cousins (plot, themes, metaphors, etc) but in a very short package. Some are complete stories (think of Ray Bradbury’s All Summer in a Day, or Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery) while others might just give you a slice of life, a few hours in the life of an individual with no clear beginning and no clear end, leaving you to wonder what might come next (some stories by Anton Chekhov, or Ernest Hemingway’s Hills Like White Elephants). They can be happy or sad, comic or dramatic, or full of irony (The Necklace, by Guy de Maupassant). Sometimes an anthology might consist of short stories on a single theme (love, loss, westerns, adventure), or they could be a mix of anything. And the beauty of an anthology is you can read one or two stories, or the whole thing, depending on your time and interest.

But short stories don’t carry the same weight as novels.

Of course they do! Many writers are known more for their short stories than for their novels – Alice Munro is considered one of the premier short story writers, having won the 2013 Nobel Prize for Literature in part for her short stories. Ray Bradbury is another prolific short-story writer, not quite horror, not quite science fiction, not quite fantasy, just imaginative. His philosophy was to write one short story a week, because out of 52 short stories, you were bound to have three or four that were really good. Short stories are easier to sell, if not to anthologies then to magazines – many a writer got their start in The New Yorker, Collier’s, or Atlantic, let alone Good Housekeeping and Readers’ Digest. Some of the most popular authors – Isaac Asimov, Dashiell Hammett, and Raymond Chandler – carved their name writing for pulp fiction magazines.

Short stories don’t always stay short, either. Many popular films started out as short stories – The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (published in The New Yorker) (Did you realize this one takes place in Waterbury, Connecticut?), All About Eve, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, 3:10 to Yuma, Shawshank Redemption, Minority Report, Brokeback Mountain, Rear Window, Total Recall, and many, many others.

A little story can go a long way. If you’re pressed for time, check out the stories in these collections, and more!

Best Short Stories of Jack London

Ray Bradbury Stories: 100 of His Most Celebrated Tales

Collected Short Stories of Louis L’Amour, Vol. 4

Children of the Night: Best Short Stories by Black Writers

Dancing Through Life in a Pair of Broken Heels

No Middle Name: The Complete Collected Jack Reacher Short Stories

Beautiful Days

Amish Front Porch Stories

Bring Out the Dog: Stories

Complete Stories of Edgar Allen Poe

Cutting Edge: New Stories of Mystery and Crime by Women Writers

20th Century Ghosts