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Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune Author Amira Makansi holds her new book and a bottle of wine while hanging out in downtown Ashland.

'Literary Libations': eat, drink, read

Author Amira Makansi’s mantra is “eat, drink and read.”

In her soon-to-be released book, “Literary Libations: What to Drink with What You Read,” the well-read foodie and former vineyard worker pairs literary classics with vintage wines. The Ashland author also serves up cocktails with a humorous twist.

A glass of Chianti classico, for instance, is recommended while reading William Goldman’s comedic tale of star-crossed lovers in “The Princess Bride.” A vintage California zinfandel is the perfect accompaniment to John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath.”

Another favorite on Makansi’s wine list is a Spanish red tempranillo paired with Ernest Hemingway’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls.”

Readers of Daphne du Maurier’s “Rebecca” might dream of Manderley while sipping a jasmine cocktail, she says.

Makansi’s tongue-in-cheek suggestion for fans of Bram Stroker’s “Dracula” is a Bloody Mary, of course. And, if only on the merit of its name, the Corpse Reviver should be served alongside Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein.”

“Literary Libations” is scheduled to hit bookstores Sept. 4. Published by Skyhorse Publishing, the book lists 162 pairings in nine different genres. Eighteen books are reviewed in each genre.

Makansi stumbled upon the idea for the book, which is equal parts cookbook, history lessons and book club fare, about three years ago while scrambling around stacks of wine barrels at the Paso Robles, California-winery where she worked.

At first, she jotted down suggestions for pairing, i.e. rose with romance novels, petit syrah with mystery-suspense thrillers and Malbec with poetry.

Already self-published as the co-author of the young adult dystopian “Seeds” trilogy and a blogger, she says the concept for her debut solo effort went from blog post to query to book proposal at the urging of her family. She landed an agent and book deal in head-spinning time.

“I feel astronomically lucky,” she says. “I skipped the trenches of soul-crashing despair” many first-time authors trudge through.

She had a six-month timeline to complete the book, which was a challenge considering the sheer volume of books and recipes to read, review and research.

And, yes, she did taste test all the libations listed in her book, even the nonalcoholic offerings such the Blueberry Daiquiri Cocktail paired with the “Hunger Games” series.

Recipes for all the mixed drinks are included, as are tips on serving and cooking with wine and conversion charts for measurements.

Makansi spent a fair amount of time researching the literature, too. Prior to writing the book, she says, she’d read about a third of the novels, and by the end had read more than 50 percent in their entirety. The others, she says, she read the first 50 pages to get a sense of the novel’s theme and the author’s writing style. With all the books, she researched their locales, the periods in which they were set and their authors.

Her sister Elena Makansi illustrated the book with vivid, lush watercolors.

Serendipitous may best describe Makansi’s writing career.

After graduating from the University of Chicago with a bachelor’s degree in history, Makansi abandoned her plans to go to law school. When given the option of an internship in pharmaceutical sales and marketing or working as a laborer during harvest time at a vineyard in the south of France — the choice was an easy one, she says.

“I quickly decided the office lifestyle was not for me,” she says. “Being outside, engaging in nature was a far better choice.”

Pursuing “all things beverage-related” and “a gourmand lifestyle” was much more appealing, she adds.

She’s worked in vineyards and wineries in France, California and Oregon. She balanced a stint in the Willamette Valley wine country with work on “Literary Libations.”

Makansi says the past decade since turning 19 has been spent not acquiring wealth, but “a wealth of experience,” especially when it came to exploring a wide variety of food and drink.

As a child, Makansi created fantasy fiction with woodland critters and Harry Potter spin-offs — all written with green glitter gel pens. But, still, she never planned on or dreamed of becoming a professional writer.

She spent years writing wine, food and travel blogs, but it was her mother’s “crazy dream” of a post-apocalyptic world where evil forces threaten the human race’s food supply that really launched her writing career.

Her mother, Kristy Makansi, invited her to co-write the science fiction dystopian novel “The Sowing” and the subsequent two books “The Reaping” and “The Harvest,” which make up the “Seeds” trilogy. Her sister, Elena, illustrated all three books.

The main characters battle corporate control of the food supply and injustice suffered by farm workers and laborers in factory towns. The authors address the issues of food security, sustainability, genetically modified organisms and biodiversity.

Big Picture Ranch, a boutique film company in Ojai, California, has optioned the rights to the first book, and a screen adaptation is in the works.

In the meantime, Makansi has started another young adult novel. This one too is science fiction, but it’s more an imagining of a world hoped for rather than a world feared, she says.

“It’s magical realism,” she adds.

“Literary Libations” is a radical departure from both the past and future projects, she admits. She hopes readers will have “a heightened reading experience” as they sip the world’s best wine, beer and spirits.

And, if it gets more people sampling the world’s best literature, “all the better,” she adds.

Local book signings for “Literary Libations” are scheduled Sept. 4, at Irvine & Roberts Vineyard, 1614 Emigrant Creek Road, Ashland; Sept. 5, at Rebel Heart Books, 157 W. California St., Jacksonville; and Sept. 6, at Bloomsbury Books, 290 E. Main St., Ashland.

Reach Grants Pass freelance writer Tammy Asnicar at tammyasnicar@q.com.

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