January 14, 2012

Further Reading, My Comments

James Hoffmann, thankfully, has begun blogging again. The internet - especially that little niche devoted to coffee - is better off for it. But James needs neither my plaudits nor my publicity - meager as both are.

James' site led me here, to a discussion about books. The author grants that coffee - as I've discussed frequently - is poorly represented in print. Given that, he asks readers to contribute a couple of books they think coffee professionals might benefit from reading, or at least, that they themselves benefited from.

My answer was as follows.
This is an interesting topic. First of all, I think it needs to be said that there's a paucity of good writing on coffee. Some decent material exists for the industry pro, but for the passionate lay person, there is nothing. Nothing that explains the process, the technique, the history. (Or at least, there is very little. The Devils Cup and Uncommon Grounds come to mind, as exceptions to my own statement.) And there is nothing like the swelling canon of food lit, from chef memoirs to local food manifestos.

Of course, there are some very insightful blogs. But again, I'd argue that those are trafficked almost exclusively by insiders. For a beverage that is such an omnipresent cultural landmark - not to mention, a massive commodity, and daily consumable for the majority of adults - coffee is ill represented in print.

But I digress. Despite all that, there are obvious lessons to be learned from food writing. But that, I think, is too obvious. So I'm going to pull a couple favorites from left field.

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, Haruki Murakami: I have to admit, I'm biased, as a runner. But even disregarding that, what we have here is a man discussing the whys and hows of his life, and how this seemingly mundane action (running) has informed who he is, both as a person and as a writer. It is about doing, about working at your craft, because that's the only way to be as good as you want to be.

Travesties, Tom Stoppard: Here we have a play. To attempt to summarize the plot is to fail. But it is also to miss the point. Stoppard writes plays of ideas, it's been said, and everything on the surface (and there is a lot of it) serves as the vehicle for said ideas. This play asks a series of questions on art. What is it? What does it do, if anything? And at the end of the day, is it, or the creator of it, worth a damn? Aside from the entertainment you can't help from derive, the play makes anyone who creates for a living think about what they're doing, and why.
Whoever you are, and whatever you do, it's important to take ideas and inspiration from different places. Failing that, we get a product and environment, stagnant and muddled by intellectual incest.


  1. Awesome post, Alex. I'm going to check out that link to the book discussion - I had never seen that before.

    What I Talk About When I Talk About Running is great. Have you had a chance to read his latest, 1Q84? I'm only a few hundred pages into it, but if you're a Murakami fan it is certainly a must read.

    1. I believe it's still in super expensive hardcover land, so no; although I do plan on it. And who knows, I occasionally splurge.

    2. It is indeed still frolicking in super expensive hardcover land, I pre-ordered through Amazon and they gave a superb pre-sale discount. It's probably pretty expensive now though.

      I would mail my copy to you. But I'm not done reading it yet...and I'm a pretty slow reader.