Amira Makansi, AB’10, has pairing recommendations for more than 150 books.
UChicagoans excel at pairing books and beverages: Durkheim and coffee. Smith and coffee. Foucault and … also coffee. But if you’re looking to up your game, you’ll find lots of help in Literary Libations: What to Drink with What You Read (Skyhorse Publishing, 2018) by Amira Makansi, AB’10, which offers pairings for 171 classic titles. (Most of the drinks are alcoholic, but there’s a section for kids and teetotalers too.)
Makansi, a history major, originally planned to become a lawyer but ended up in the wine industry. She’s also the coauthor of three Hunger Games-esque young adult novels, the Seeds trilogy, with her mother and sister.
How did you get the idea for Literary Libations?
My dad and I went to Alinea [chef Grant Achatz’s renowned Lincoln Park restaurant] together when I was a student at UChicago. He ordered the wine pairings to go with our meal and it was an absolutely transcendental experience. When you have a good wine that goes perfectly with the food that you’re eating, the flavors that you get out of the wine and the food change so much. That experience really highlighted to me the value of putting two things together and seeing how they change each other.
Years later, I was working as a laboratory technician at a winery in California and also writing a blog. I just happened to come up with this concept of pairing wine and books. I wrote a post, kind of spur-of-the-moment, called “What to Drink with What You Read.” It was pairing wine styles with genres, like rosé with romance, petite sirah with mysteries and thrillers, and Argentinian Malbec with poetry, but there were no specific titles. People loved it. A few years later I came up with the book proposal and set about trying to get it published.
What does a laboratory technician at a winery do?
There are two seasons in winemaking: there’s harvest season and then there’s off-season, where you’re maintaining the wine that is currently in barrels. You want it to be healthy and stable and not developing any microbiological activity. The lab tech is pulling samples on all of those barrels, assisting in the blending process, and then checking and making sure that everything is healthy and ready to go into bottles.
I didn’t know that job existed. When I read that you worked in the wine industry all I could imagine was the person who stomps on grapes with your feet.
I have done a fair amount of grape stomping. There’s actually a picture of me on Instagram stomping away on those grapes with very red feet.
Is it as fun as it looks?
It’s fun, but you know what, it’s actually pretty cold. You want to harvest in the morning, when the grapes are really fresh. So you bring grapes off the vine at about 60 degrees, and when you get your feet in there, it’s like, oh my god, that’s really, really cold.
Which pairings in the book were easy and which were tricky?
One that I knew immediately was Dracula. The pairing is a Bloody Mary. To me it was so easy I didn’t even have to think about it. It’s so appropriate: a thick red drink with a lot of vodka and horseradish and garlic. What about that doesn’t say vampire to you?
The books that I didn’t fall in love with as much as I expected to or hoped to were more challenging. Moby-Dick was definitely one of those. I was reading it and I was like, this is a massive piece of male American arrogance. The pairing ended up being Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon. I think those two complement each other pretty well, even though you would probably not have a bottle of cab sauv anywhere on that boat.
You’ve written a YA science-fiction trilogy with your mom and sister. How does it work to write a novel with three authors?
My mom was the idea person. She actually had the original concept for the very first book [The Sowing (Layla Dog Press, 2013), set in the dystopian world of the Okarian Sector]. We have two alternating protagonists, Remy and Vale, and my sister wrote for one and I wrote for the other. Every now and then we would switch off if we were feeling creatively blocked or we weren’t sure what to do with that character at that point in the story. My mom would go through and edit our chapters.
Was it a pretty harmonious process?
It was overall as harmonious as can possibly be expected.