What I'm Reading (No. 12): Yemeni coffee and a popular thriller
The Monk of Mokha by Dave Eggers
I love Dave Eggers. The Circle was a favorite read in 2015. Heroes of the Frontier was a delightful vacation read in 2016. I also really enjoyed A Hologram for the King. I've read a couple others too, and haven't even gotten to his most popular books yet, which would arguably be What Is the What and A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.
So when I found out he had written a story about coffee — The Monk of Mokha (327 pgs, 2018) — I knew I had to read it ASAP. Not only was it a great story — sort of a biography-slash-history-slash-economics lesson — but I'm pretty sure the coffee industry itself has benefited, as I now want to buy all the expensive coffee (particularly from Yemen).
Our protagonist, Mokhtar Alkhanshali, is of Yemeni origin, but did most of his growing up in a rough part of San Fran. He was an aimless young man after high school, trying to figure out his next step when he heard the story of Yemen's role in the origin story of coffee. While the popular and accepted mythology is that coffee was first discovered in Ethiopia, it was first made more as a tea there. It was a Yemeni clan that first roasted the beans and made the beverage as the dark and powerful drink we know now. At one time, the port of Mokha, Yemen was one of the most important in the industry (hence the title of the book).
Even though Mokhtar wasn't a big consumer of coffee, he was entranced by that story, and decided he would try to become a US importer of high-quality Yemeni coffee. But the industry was in a sad state in the war-torn country, and he had to not only learn about the coffee industry from square zero, he also had to navigate some intense geopolitical factors, including al-Qaeda.
In the midst of this story, Eggers also takes us through coffee's eclectic history as a commodity, and the rise of luxury coffees in the modern world, as exemplified most notably by the fast-growing Blue Bottle Coffee out of San Francisco. I love coffee, and I love Blue Bottle (I get a bag of their single origin sent to me every month), so this was a fascinating, absorbing story for me. I also roast my own coffee beans, so I immediately bought some fancy Yemeni varietals to try out.
This is just a great, easy-reading book for a wide variety of readers. Even if you don't care much for coffee, I bet you'll be intrigued my Mokhtar's rags-to-not-quite-riches story. If anyone has truly captured the American Dream, it's him.
Origin by Dan Brown
Origin (480 pgs, 2017) is the fifth and most recent installment of Dan Brown's Robert Langdon series (Angels & Demons, The Da Vinci Code, etc.). I've thoroughly enjoyed all the other titles, and especially in the first few, the stories and reveals were super unique. Secret codes in da Vinci's paintings? Heck yes! Sign me up! At this point, though, honestly, his model feels a little predictable. While I still blasted through the book and enjoyed it enough, I'm not sure I'll make it a priority to read future installments. There can only be so many world-changing discoveries made by Mr. Langdon. The plots are always on such a grand scale that they start to lose any semblance of reality (sort of like how I felt about 24 near the end of its run; the world can only be in mortal danger so many times!).
Some folks didn't love the semi-predictable ending, and while it wasn't the best plot twist, I always enjoy seeing how the protagonists got there, even if we sort of know how it'll end up.
If you're into Dan Brown's books and thrillers in general, certainly give it a read, but don't go into it expecting something mind-blowing. As I said, it's entertaining enough to enjoy, but probably won't make anyone's year-end list of favorites.
Traveling this week in Minnesota and Iowa with the family, so I'm keepin things a little short. I'd still love to know what you're reading this week though, so shoot me a line. Thanks for your time and inbox space!