Book and a Beer with Ian Carlsen of Potential!

baabBook and a Beer is a new regular feature here at Brews + Books – a chance for authors, brewers and bloggers to tell you a little bit about their favorite books and beers.

Ian Carlsen is a Portland-based actor and writer. One of the four creative voices behind the blog Potential!, Ian writes on a number of topics, covering everything from national politics to local restaurants.  He also maintains his own blog – Process – and frequently works with the New England film and video production team MINT films.  Ian was kind enough to take a few minutes to write about his a few of his favorite books and beers.

Winter is on my mind, and with that comes everything I hate about the season and everything I love about people. My choices may reflect this:

Snow, by Orhan Pamuk

“The best moments in reading” Alan Bennett writes in his play The History Boys, “are when you come across something – a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things – that you’d thought special, particular to you. And here it is, set down by someone else, a person you’ve never met, maybe even someone long dead. And it’s as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.” These moments are rare, but when they do happen the true purpose of writing really shines through. The stories we share carry in them that which unifies us. Even if the author is living on another continent or in another time, our experiences can be the same. They can overlap in a way more intimate or encompassing than you ever expected.

Ka is a Turkish poet and the main protagonist of the story. The narrative however is constructed by his friend Orhan (nice one there Mr. Pamuk) who is piecing together notes from Ka’s fateful return to Turkey, the events of which have lead to his murder. This makes for an interesting and engaging narrative structure, as the omniscience of the narrator varies from chapter to chapter, some of which are pure speculation on Orhan’s behalf others lifted from Ka’s detailed notes. Pamuk weaves these together seamlessly and masterfully and the transitions are not jarring (a la Everything is Illuminated) but rather a quick widening of perspective, like someone turning on an extra light in a darkened room.

Ka has returned to Turkey after a 12 year exile and on behalf of a reporter friend of his decides to pose as a journalist and travel to the remote city of Kars to investigate the recent suicides of a number of young women. That the young women have committed suicide for not being able to wear head-scarves in school has caused quite a stir as suicide is forbidden by Muslim law. As a result a number of polarizing factions—the Turkish government, Islamic fundamentalists, and a traveling theater troupe hell-bent on causing a stir—have moved in to use the girls suicides to further their own ends.

Ka’s other motive is to reunite with an old childhood friend, İpek, whom he believes he is in love with who is living in the city with her father. It’s this motivation that leads Ka to take a heavier course of action in order to pursue his romance. Ka’s obsession with İpek and courting her is also how Pamuk takes this very modern political novel and transports it into the world of literature. Ka is not a political man, at the most he wants love and inspiration, but the rest of the world doesn’t share his simplicity and it is because of this that Ka becomes embroiled in a series of events that lead to his downfall. Pamuk creates a character whose motivations are so simply and honestly human that to see them twisted by others is to see your own simple desires for happiness upended in this world of vague truths and clashing ideologies. I cried for the length of the epilogue—and though it should be said it’s pretty easy for something beautifully written to get me to cry—Snow is a truly heartbreaking work.

Other great books:
Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair, by Pablo Neruda
I Served the King of England, by Bohumil Hrabal
Zen in the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert M. Pirsig
The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemmingway

Hampshire Special Ale from D.L. Geary Brewing Company

Love of a beer isn’t necessarily about flash, or potency or flavor for that matter. I’ve had my share of Shlitzes, Unibroues, Dogfishes and more. I’ve had Guinness in Dublin, a fair share of cask porters in London, and sipped a rice-y Singha with many a plate of sushi. As a lad I would fasten up my woolen kickers with a length of frayed hemp and dash with my grandma’s nickel down to the local craft beer store to purchase the newest Belgian Tripel. I have known beers. I certainly have not known them all but I have wandered, lo I have strayed, but it is because of this faithlessness that I have come to know the truest love.

Here in Maine it snows, and when it snows you drink. You need a dark, hearty, toasted malt with a high enough ABV to slowly kick you in the pants like a flip-book car crash. You need a punch of hops to keep you from nodding off in front of the kerosene heater and getting brain damage from the fumes. Pabst will freeze in your veins, whiskey will make you mean and ugly, and a Geary’s HSA will simply pluck your blues away. It’s the simple choice—and, no, I do not work for Geary’s.

When I look back at prime moments of beer consumption in my life, the times when I’ve felt great about having drinks with friends, images of a big yellow or gold box with twelve of Geary’s finest Hampshire Specials linger on the periphery. It works great as a summer beer too, but it’s best enjoyed when you’ve tacked wool blankets up in the windows and you’re surrounded by friends after a snowball fight. It’s a good winter beer, and in what season do we need beer more? Pour a glass and drink deep as its robust tones tickle your spirit like sharing a laugh with an old friend. Have two and ponder how amazing it is that Geary’s has come up with the perfect ABV (7.0%) to keep your palate intact but still set your ears aglow for a modest price.

Wander if you must: HSA is part of Geary’s regular lineup and like a true friend it will always be here.

Other great beers:
Shipyard Old Thumper
Sierra Nevada Pale Ale
Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA
Pabst Blue Ribbon

Have a favorite beer and a favorite book?  Want to write a few paragraphs for Brews + Books?  Drop me a line at


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