Saturday, July 24, 2010

Tea Taste - Celestial Seasonings Red Zinger Tea

It is 10:46 on a Saturday night and I am at home, debating on whether or not to do my laundry. Yes, I have such an exciting life. However, today was quite a day for my family and me; my grandfather passed away last week and my mother and grandmother were on a cruise for a week while the event took place. My father was in Minnesota for business. I was the only one here within the immediate family to handle the news of his passing. For days, I wondered about how they were going to handle it while still knowing that they needed to be told. So, when they arrived from New Orleans, I drove to my grandparents’ house, ready to do my part. However, things never turn out how we may plan them in our minds; my family handled the news really well and prepared his funeral, wake and repast all within a couple of hours. That alone was proof enough for me that the women in the family are strong individuals and thank the gods I take after them (grin).

In any case tonight, I have decided not to do laundry, saving that enjoyable experience for Sunday. However, I just prepared a cup of Celestial Seasonings Red Zinger Herbal Tea; a blend I have not had in quite some time. As soon as I opened the box, I could smell the hibiscus and peppermint and knew that my first cup tonight would be a good one.

Do you have a tea that just soothes and calms your soul? I have several – Celestial Seasonings Sleepytime (great while reading at night!), Red Zinger, good ol’ chamomile tea, and any of my white teas. At night, my taste buds have simmered down somewhat and my body looks forward to resting in my bed so adding a calming tea is nothing short of pleasant. I may be a fuddy duddy, but I know what I like: reading a book while drinking tea.

So tonight, I shall enjoy my cup of Red Zinger and dedicate the first sip to my grandfather; although he was not a tea drinker, I shall miss him terribly and hope that he knows just how much I loved him.

Happy Cups!

Book Review - The Man Who Loved Books Too Much by Allison Hoover Bartlett

When I think of the word “bibliophile”, I automatically think of myself. In my apartment are five bookcases filled to the brim with books of every subject and genre. Reading (and now writing) books has been a passion of mine since my family took me to the library on Saturdays when I was a child. The feel of the books piled up in my hands, the smell of the old paper, glue and boards that made the books plus the smell of the library itself still linger with me today. I remember going to the main library when it was located on Peabody and McLean and how it smelled every time I walked through those doors. Libraries and bookstores are my home away from home. Even now, I would much rather spend my money on books than clothing, shoes, jewelry or anything else like that. I have even scraped together change from the bottom of my messenger bag to purchase a book. So yes, I take full claim in calling myself a bibliophile. However, that is where I draw the line. Although I adore my addiction, I would never cross the legal line in obtaining my passion. Others, however, would have no problem in doing such a thing. Take John Gilkey, for example, the subject of Allison Hoover Bartlett’s non-fiction book The Man Who Loved Books Too Much. Gilkey was a man who adored books so much that he would steal them from bookstores and book fairs, then turn around and sell some of them to make a profit. He would even go so far as to obtain credit card numbers (back when the numbers were printed on receipt slips) and call in his orders to antiquarian book dealers all over the country, then pick them up claiming he was a “friend” of the person who placed the order. His activities stumped many a book dealer until bookseller Ken Sanders, the “bibliodick” made it his personal mission to track down the thief and deliver an appropriate amount of justice to Gilkey.
While Bartlett conducted research for this novel, she spent a great deal of time speaking to both Sanders and Gilkey, even going so far as to walk with Gilkey into one of the bookstores that he stole from. His reasons for stealing the collectible books were because they were priced too high for the common man to obtain, and that he loved books just that much and it was his right and duty to “acquire” them for his personal library. Sanders, along with other antiquarian book dealers felt otherwise, claiming that although he may have loved books, stealing them was unfair to those who would have obtained the books through legal means, i.e., purchase them with their own money. Even some of the book dealers Bartlett interviewed questioned her own motives in following and speaking to the book thief, wondering if perhaps she was in on the scam as well. Although there has been much debate as to her ethics while gathering research for this novel and if she romanticized Gilkey while building him up more as a passionate lover of books than just a petty thief, Bartlett does a fantastic job in conveying both sides of the book world: those who sell the highly prized books, and those who would do anything to obtain them, both legally and illegally. Bartlett, being a reader herself, reveals the world of collecting books to those on the outside; people who would never consider going to great lengths in obtaining a first edition Ernest Hemingway or F. Scott Fitzgerald. She even begins to collect books after she receives a highly collectible work from a friend who forgot to return it to the library after years of having it. Although she does not fully plunge into the world of collecting books, she still appears to show an appreciation for it – the passion that both Sanders and Gilkey feel for their books is apparent. When I finished reading the book, I wondered if Gilkey was still out there stealing books for his collection or if perhaps he turned a new leaf and purchased them like everyone else, or if he was behind bars for good. One thing that I know for certain, though, is that once bitten by the bibliophile bug, one stays that way for the rest of their life. Right or wrong, a bibliophile is still a bibliophile, giving into their literary passions to satisfy that endless need, no matter how extreme our passions may drive us.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Book Review - A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway is one of those writers in which he writes for the common man; there are no lofty words or “higher planes of existence” in his books. His descriptions are simple and to the point and yet they carry such a weight that it is almost easy to forget that you are merely reading the book instead of actually listening to him speak. My first dance with Hemingway was the book The Sun Also Rises; immediately, I wanted to pack up a bag and fly to Paris to see if I too would experience Paris in that same way. Would I, as a writer, come to love (and loathe) the City of Lights like he did? Would I also be able to stomach watching a bullfight in Spain as he did?
So, it came as no surprise to me, then, when I began reading A Moveable Feast years later that I fell in love with not only his words but also Paris and the Lost Generation all over again. Here we see Hemingway, or Hemi as people called him, along with his first wife Hadley and their son living in Paris and living the life of a poor but artistically inclined family. Along the way, he meets up and drinks with F. Scott Fitzgerald and his insane wife Zelda, Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound and others while walking through the streets, writing furiously at cafes while eating at a bare minimum, and living the life of a true expatriate. There was not one moment wasted in his life; he saw fit to do whatever whenever he liked for it was all part of why he was in Paris.
After devouring the book in one day, I found myself wondering just why reading Hemingway during this time was profoundly different than when I read Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer a couple of months ago. I first read Miller when I was in university, wide eyed and bushytailed, eager to take on the world while reading everything I could get my hands on. Miller was a writer who pushed the envelope to the edge then, with a wink and a smile, threw it over without giving a damn if anyone cared enough to look. I admired him and his frank words; he explored every possible sensation while living as a poor writer in Paris and it seemed to never be enough. However, when I read it again many years later, I found myself not being able to finish it. Why? The words were the same, the manuscript had not changed, so why was it that I could not go beyond 70 pages of Miller while I devoured Hemingway in one night? Both lived in Paris around the same time; both were writers; both loved and hated the city. There may not be an exact answer but I do know this: Hemingway’s words flowed smoothly across my brain like a cool glass of water, even when he talked about certain subjects such as trying to explain to Fitzgerald that size does not matter, only how a man uses it, or when he consistently and humourously insults a literary critic while sitting in a café. While Miller was, as I discovered later, like running through a rocky patch of road that somehow still felt pretty good to do, Hemingway was like sailing on a lake with a bump every now and then. I felt I could understand Hemingway better now that I am older and more “seasoned” than when I was in my 20s and had no idea just what I wanted to be when I grew up. Perhaps that is what Miller felt as well when he wrote his tomes of excellence, for they are still wonderful books that perhaps I shall try to read again later down my own road of life. For now, however, let me sit in a quiet café in Paris, sipping on a cup of tea or perhaps something stronger, and watch a young man two tables away from me furiously write out his words in a journal, watching him pour his very essence into what would later become his gifts to the world – “I’ve seen you, beauty, and you belong to me now, whoever you are waiting for and I never see you again, I thought. You belong to me and all Paris belongs to me and I belong to this notebook and this pencil.”

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Book Review - A Minor Tide by Robin Beeman

“No man is an island.”

Truer words ne’er spoken; no matter much one may want to be apart from the world, the reality is that they never truly are. We, whether we like it or not, affect many who know us well or those who don’t even know who we are. Sally, the main character in Robin Beeman’s novella A Minor Tide, lives (and dies) up to that quote. After her car and body are found off a cliff on a highway north of San Francisco, the rest of the novella is told in the voices of those that knew her well and not so well: her sister Mattie and Mattie’s husband (and Sally’s lover) Evan, Joel (another of Sally’s lovers) and his ex-wife, Anna. With each chapter, the reader is given pieces of Sally’s life, a life filled with alcohol and low self-esteem while providing more questions than answers in trying to explain just why she died or perhaps killed herself.
To be honest, I had never heard of the author until I picked up the slim volume at a library book sale; I was drawn to the picture of crashing waves on the cover. The synopsis on the inside flap of the book interested me somewhat until I finally read the book weeks later. Instantly, I was drawn in by Evan’s words at the beginning and immediately, I felt as though I had known him for years. Beeman’s words make you feel as though you had just stopped at Mattie and Evan’s house for a cup of tea on a lazy Saturday, not knowing of the tragedy they were about to tell you. When I opened the book, I sat rooted to the couch and then later in my cubicle at work during my lunch break, wondering just what kind of person Sally was and why I should even care about her. Strangely enough, I wanted to care about her through her sister and lovers. I wanted to take their loss and recently discovered regrets and make them my own until the end of the book. These are not just characters one would read about and then immediately walk away from. Long after I closed the book, I could smell the ocean water as it hit the rocks far bellow the California highway. I wanted to place a hand on Joel’s arm once he heard about Sally’s death, knowing that he would need at least a shoulder to cry on. I wanted to talk to Anna after she met her ex-husband’s lover for the first time, asking her how she was able to do it. And later still, I wanted to make Mattie a cup of tea and let her know that it would be okay while she dealt with her own inner demons that suddenly came to light after her sister’s death. Beeman made me want to care, because she apparently did when she wrote the novella; it is just that obvious. This is more than just a novella; this is a slice of life in a place far enough to be considered foreign to most and yet we the readers can feel a sense of understanding when someone we know suddenly leaves our lives for good. No man is an island and quite honestly, would anyone want their life to be that? I know I would not.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Sonnet - On His Blindess by John Milton

John Milton. 1608–1674

318. On His Blindness

WHEN I consider how my light is spent
E're half my days, in this dark world and wide,
And that one Talent which is death to hide,
Lodg'd with me useless, though my Soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, least he returning chide,
Doth God exact day-labour, light deny'd,
I fondly ask; But patience to prevent
That murmur, soon replies, God doth not need
Either man's work or his own gifts, who best
Bear his milde yoak, they serve him best, his State
Is Kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed
And post o're Land and Ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and waite.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Tea Taste - Japanese Sencha

Japanese Sencha is green tea that is made from dried leaves that have not been ground up, giving the tea (in my opinion) a more intense flavour than other green teas without being too bitter or overpowering. I purchased my box of 100 Sencha tea bags at Great China Food Mart here in Memphis, TN (such a cool place!) for $3.25. This was my first time trying Japanese Sencha, although I have tried Japanese Matcha before. Japanese Matcha, for those of you who don’t know, is tea made from powered tealeaves. The taste is quite strong and bitter but it still has a great flavour. I had the pleasure of drinking Japanese Matcha at a Japanese Tea Ceremony at the Matsuri Japanese Festival in Phoenix, AZ (awesome city!)

When I made my first cup of Sencha, the liquor began as a pale green that slowly changed to a golden green colour while giving off a clean scent with a touch of green (slightly like hay but lighter). Usually, I let my tea bags steep between 204 minutes, but I found that you could let the bag stay in a bit longer without causing the tea to go bitter.

First Sip – All I could think of was mellow and relaxation with a fresh taste in a good way. There were also hints of a fruit like essence that I found to be quite pleasing. Although I have not tried it yet, this tea would be good without any sugar. This tea is a nice alternative to regular green tea; sometimes green tea is too harsh for me with a strong taste of hay.

Japanese Sencha, or at least the kind I purchased, is a nice and welcomed change. I have already given it a nickname – Hippie Tea. Every single time I drink it, I feel extremely relaxed and just darn happy. Of course, I feel that way when I drink any kind of tea, but this one is special.

Rating – A+

Happy Cups!