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October 15, 1998 - Image 12

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The Michigan Daily, 1998-10-15

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12A - The Michigan Daily - Thursday, October 15, 1998

Cohen finds novelty in ordinary

1 -1


Glass Paper, Beans:
Revelations on the
Nature and Value of
Ordinary Things.
Leah Hager Cohen
What is it about coffee? OK, so it has
a cake named after it, big deal. Does
that make it the worthy subject of a
book? And why do we associate coffee
with radical, even intellectual thoughts,
as if revolutionaries and geniuses are
merely caffeine crazies? Leah Hager
Cohen, author of "Glass, Paper, Beans:
Revelations on the Nature and Value of
Ordinary Things" would applaud these
mildly provocative questions, which
themselves were probably the product
of a mocha-induced stupor, and indeed,
uses them as the premise of her book.
The narrative begins with the author
sipping an inviting cup of coffee in an
ordinary coffee shop. While sitting
watching people and taking advantage
of endless descriptive possibilities, it
dawns on Cohen that society today
knows nothing about where coffee
comes from. Nor does it know who
worked a 12-hour shift to make sure
the glass we are drinking from is safe
or what kind of tree our newspaper
once was. From this point on, the book
becomes an interesting mixture of fic-
tion, fact and personal reflection that
manifests itself in whatever form and
whenever it sees fit. The narrator is the
thread tying the various literary styles
The fiction portion of the novel is

the most delightful aspect of it. It fol-
lows the lives of three characters from
different locales and backgrounds in
three different countries, Brent Boyd
from Plumwescep, New Brunswick,
Ruth Lamp from Lancaster, Ohio, and
Basilio Salinas from Pluma Hidalgo,
Oaxaca; each of whom is linked to
either the production of paper, glass or
coffee respectively. They live extreme-
lv ordinary lives. Yet, it is for precisely
this reason that the reader is so eager
for the author to
reveal fresh
details of their
existence. The
charm of the nar-
rative has noth-
ing to do with plot
- in fact, there
isn't one - but rather
is in careful characteri-
zation and concise
descriptive passages.
The characters are allowed
to speak for themselves in the
hope that the reader will develop a
connection between the objects we use
in our every day lives, their origins and
their worth. But this objective falls
short. While Cohen's characters are as
delicious as the steamy concoction she
claims to have been drinking when cre-
ating them, the reader barely has a
chance to meet the characters before the
narrator interrupts the narrative to dis-
cuss the meaning of "fetish" or some
other seemingly unrelated topic.
One gets the impression that the
author spent an incredible amount of
time researching the production and
origins of glass, paper and coffee

beans and could just as easily have
written an essay on the economical
advantages of selective forest harvest-
ing as a narrative about the lifestyle of
a New Brunswick lumberjack. The his-
torical passages, which trace the ori-
gins of the various objects in question,
inform as well as entertain. For
instance, did you know that members
of the French royal court during the
reign of Louis XVI drank from coffee
cups shaped like the breasts of
Marie Antoinette in order
to celebrate coffee's
"feminine charms?" Or
that many events in
early American his-
tory such as the
Boston Tea Party
were planned at
coffee shops ?
there is
to that "coffee
radicals" theory
after all.
The book is full of interesting tidbits
that could come in handy when intel-
lectual discourse at Espresso Royale or
Cava Java is suddenly in short supply.
In this sense, the novel does live up to
its name and reveals fascinating facts
about the nature of three ordinary
things. Unfortunately, humorous his-
toric facts do not help perpetuate the
novel's other claim of assigning new
"values" to ordinary drinking cups.
Shallow it may be, but yesterday's
news is still yesterday's news and peo-
ple are not likely to find "value" in the
Sunday newspaper on Monday, even if
Continued from Page 9A
version of the play to present here.I
Since there have been at least fourI
stage revivals and two films made ofc
this comedy since it opened in 1934,
revising the show has become a tradi-
Bird said that his choice "keepsi
enough of the flavor, but appeals to
audiences like the best written of{
today's TV sitcoms. It possesses the f
quality of writing that one comes to t
expect from shows like 'Frasier,'
'Cheers' or 'Mash."' The production
lives up to such comparisons.
"Anything Goes" fills and enlivensa
the Mendelssohn Theatre stage, with
28 student cast members and many t
costume changes. The set mimics ac

it is an institution.
The narrator's interludes are well-
meant and probably convey legitimate
points about time, growing up and psy-
chology, but the reader may find them
dull and drawn out. Furthermore, it is
difficult to see what correlation these
interludes have to the book as a whole.
For example, what bearing the chapter
titled "The Fetish" has on coffee
beans, a glass and a newspaper is not
quite clear. Instead of provoking the
thought processes, these interludes end
up being nothing more than interrup-
tions that take away from the merit of
the book as a whole.
In the end, the book would have been
better served by concentrating on the
wonderful characters and developing
their short narratives into an interwoven
and lengthier story line.
The author simply tries to do too
many things at once in this book.
Interesting philosophies and comments
on past or present threaten to become
diversions rather than reasons to keep
turning the page, But the book tries to
be inventive and integrates essay writ-
ing with fiction for a positively unique
effect and one which is worthy of atten-
The author should also be commend-
ed for her striking and clear imagery,
which is difficult when what story there
is takes place in three different regions
and climates. The fact that Leah Hager
Cohen is able to present three working
class individuals, one being from
underdeveloped country, without
patronizing the characters or their sur-
roundings, is remarkable in itself
- Kelly Lutes
'30s-era luxury liner, designed by the
co-author of "Scenic Art for the
Theatre," Susan Crabtree.
Undergraduate student Timothy
Reynolds developed the lighting con-
The score incorporates Cole Porter's
most famous tunes. These include
"You're the Top" the Freudian slip-
inspiring, "Blow, Gabriel, Blow," and
"All Through the Night." The Lincoln
Center score also revives three songs
from the original Broadway produc-
tion that were cut in later versions,
"Buddy Beware," "Easy to Love" and
"No Cure Like Travel."
Four sold-out performances can be
attributed to the show's traditional pop-
ular appeal. With jazzy songs and love
triangles worthy of "Melrose Place,"
can anything go wrong?



Courtesy of Herert Barrett Management
John Dailey, Arnold Steinhardt, Michael Tree and David Soyer are the
Guarneri Quartet.
m reharm,,-n-~ony



B R 1 A R W o o D M A L'L'
U of M and Eastern Michigan, students and
employees. Show us your "M" card or "Eagle" card.
*Not valid on Kiddie Car Classics or Hallmark Keepsake Ornaments
4N& J&difnws& - Briarwood Mall '

By Jenni Glenn
Daily Arts Writer
The world famous ensemble, the
Guarneri String Quartet performs
on campus this Sunday. The mem-
bers have recorded and toured inter-
nationally together for the past 34
years, making the group the oldest
string quartet in the world.
During those years, the group
developed a relationship with the
University performing on campus
27 times, most recently in 1996.
"They've been here a lot, proba-
bly more than any string quartet,"
University Musical Society

Rackham Auditorium
Sunday at 4 p.m.

Fisher said.
"Our relation-
ship with
them is deep
and goes back
to the begin-
ning of the
quartet 30
years ago."
Second vio-
linist John
Dailey grew
up in Ann
Arbor. His

so many years, and it's truly amaz-
Part of this longevity comes from
the group's sense of balance. Fisher
describes it as "a magical formula"
where the members can devote time
to both work and their families.
A different kind of balance
between four separate instruments
produces the group's unified sound.
"What impresses me about the
Guarneri is the quality of each indi-
vidual musician and the blending of
the sounds in an ensemble," Fisher
said. "It's not four individuals each
hacking away at the quality of their
music, It's really one ensemble
where the members are sensitive to
each other."
The musicians will apply that bal-
ance to pieces by Arriaga, Berg and
Grieg during this performance.
"Their past concerts included com-
posers at all different levels of
celebrity," Fisher said, "and this one
is no exception." The group exposes
the audience to unknown com-
posers, while also performing more
traditionally popular chamber
This formula brought the group
national attention. The Quartet has
toured around the country and
North America. In their hometown
of New York City, they have per-
formed at the Metropolitan
Museum of Art and the Lincoln
Center numerous times. In addition,
they've played concert halls all over
South America, Europe, Australia
and the Far East.
No one knows for sure what the
Quartet's next project will be, but
with any luck they will continue
their long tradition. "I know that the
chamber music world hopes they'll
continue to play together as long as
they can," Fisher said.


father, Orien, taught in the Music
School. This local connection con-
tributed to the Guarneri quartet's
first invitation to play on campus.
Since then, the quartet has
achieved a special status among
string quartets. The four original
members, Arnold Steinhardt,
Dalley, Michael Tree and David
Soyer, remain together, in despite
their grueling practice and travel
schedule. The relationships
between the musicians even
inspired the critically acclaimed
film "High Fidelity." Fisher said,
"They have remained together for


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