Starbucks seems to be a popular topic for writers, historians, cultural critics, businessmen, and sociologists. Business writers praise the company’s ingenuity and talk about how the “Starbucks Experience” can turn the “ordinary into the extraordinary.” The CEO of Starbucks wants to tell you his secrets about how to be a successful entrepreneur. The company’s founding president offers lessons in leadership from his role in building the company. Starbucks saved Michael Gill’s life.
Taylor Clark has written Starbucked, a book that many readers on Amazon seem to think is a fair and balanced journalistic treatment of the corporate giant. Leonard Sweet writes about the Gospel According the Starbucks and Paul Copan gives Christians tips on how to share their faith in a Starbucks. There is even a Starbucks novel!
I could probably count on one hand the number of times I have set foot in a Starbucks. I don’t drink coffee and the store’s non-coffee drinks or either too sugary or give me a brain freeze. I prefer Dunkin Donuts or the local bakery to their expensive pastries. I don’t know how anyone can do serious work in a Starbucks, especially writing. Too many distractions. And I must admit that I am a bit intimidated by the people who go to Starbucks. I am not as cool as they are. I don’t know how to behave in their midst.
But I am interested in what Starbucks tells us about America, especially since I have family members who seem to have a mild addiction to the place. This is why I was glad when I heard that Bryant Simon–a scholar who I have never met, but whose work I have grown to admire–was turning his attention to Starbucks.
I was first exposed to the work of Bryant Simon through his fascinating book Boardwalk of Dreams: Atlantic City and the Fate of Urban America. As a native of New Jersey who has spent a lot of time at the Jersey shore and a fair amount of time in Atlantic City, I was riveted by Simon’s attempt to move beyond the nostalgia (Monopoly and the Miss America Pageant) and dive deeply into questions of race and class. It is a great book.
Simon’s latest book is Everything But Coffee: Learning About America From Starbucks. It will be released in October. While you are waiting for its release, I encourage you to watch a presentation he gave at a 2007 conference on Taste. The video of the presentation is available here. There is also a book podcast at Red Room. If his writing in Boardwalk of Dreams is any indication, I am sure that Simon, the director of the American Studies Program at Temple, will offer an account of Starbucks that is scholarly, thoughtful, and accessible to general readers. I look forward to reviewing it here soon.