Two of my favorite things in the world are craft beer and books. On the last Thursday of every month I pair a novel I love with a pint to sip while reading it, under the theory that there is a perfect beer to compliment every book.
It seems like there were a number of gray, rainy days in Richmond, Virginia this month, which made it a perfect month for curling up inside, under a blanket, with a good book. Which is exactly what I did. This month I read Sadeqa Johnson’s Love in a Carry-On Bag. The novel tells the story of Erica and Warren, who are about a year into their long-distance relationship. She lives in New York, and is climbing the ladder in the marketing department at a huge publishing company. He lives Washington D.C. and works a lucrative job as an IT contractor by day and plays jazz trumpet by night. The story chronicles the intense ups and downs of their long-distance relationship, while also weaving in their childhood experiences (neither of which were easy).
Heres what I loved about the book:
- The characters. Warren and Erica are beautifully flawed. They’re both selfish at times. They both overreact at times. They both fail at talking to each other about parts of their past that would help them understand each other better. They are also both gentle and tender toward each other and fundamentally kind. As a reader, you root for their relationship because you genuinely like both of them (and more than likely because somewhere in there you see a little bit of yourself reflected in them).
- The music. I listened to Nina Simone’s greatest hits while reading, and have found several lovely jazz stations on Rhapsody since finishing the book. I dare you to read this book and not listen to jazz. Seriously.
- The career stuff. Johnson’s depiction of Warren’s character juggling his IT career that pays the bills (quite well) and his career as a musician, which is his true passion, was spot on. You felt the constant tension between security and the work of his soul. Erica also deals with decisions and issues regarding her career. I don’t want to say too much here, to avoid giving away a pivotal plot point, but Johnson highlights an issue that many women (and many more black women) face with far greater frequency than they should.
- Grandma Queeny. Erica’s (now-deceased) grandmother was her biggest support and role-model growing up. Throughout the story, Erica hears her voice in her head and channels her plain-spoken wisdom. Like this line about addressing the past and moving on: “Chile, that’s because it’s time for you to till the soil and dig up that toxic stuff that’s hindering your good crops from growing.” I feel like we could all use a little Grandma Queeny in our lives (or maybe that’s just me).
So the perfect choice for beer pairing would clearly be Dogfish Head’s Miles Davis inspired Bitches Brew (see bullet point about music above). However, it’s a limited release and not widely available – meaning I’ve never tried it, and am not going to recommend it on name alone. Plus it would be hard to find.
Instead I’m turning toward Abita, based in New Orleans, a city that is forever linked with jazz music in my mind. My favorite beer of theirs is the Pecan Harvest Ale, because it drinks easy but has a lot of flavor. Similarly, Johnson’s writing feels like a good friend telling you a story, so you’ll turn the pages of Love in a Carry-On Bag quickly and easily but you’ll find yourself thinking about the spicy nuances of it long after the story ends. (Also, I’m pretty sure Grandma Queeny would like the pecan beer, just saying.)
You can learn more about Sadeqa Johnson on her website or Facebook page. And be sure to watch for her new novel Second House from the Corner due out on February 9, 2015 (it’s one of Popsugar’s 23 books you should read this winter).