Clockwise, from top left: the 55th Place Arts building where we’ll have the party; The Hill and the Wood; Breakup Cookies; a PostScript preview; Peanut Buddies.
What do you do when you’re excited about a birthday, an anniversary, or a big holiday? You throw a party, duh. And, since we’re pretty happy about our new website and blog that will launch next week, that’s exactly what we’re doing.
The party will be this Sunday night (March 11) at a brand new music studio in Woodlawn. Why do we need a music studio? Because we’re having a band play. The Hill and the Wood will be making beautiful music, and they’ll be joined by a few other musicians (including one of our favorite bands, Great Book of John) from our partners in partying, Communicating Vessels.
We’ll have a few things to eat and drink (we’re working on mini Breakup Cookies and little Peanut Buddies!), plus a raffle where you can win books and coffee. We’ll also tell you a bit more about the site and blog. But, mostly, this is just a celebration of the past eight months we’ve been open, and of this new adventure that we’re starting.
Find more information on our Facebook event. It’s an open event, so be sure to add your friends! We hope to see you Sunday, and all this week at Church Street.
Cal contemplates the meaning of community on our patio.
By Carrie Rollwagen
If you’ve ever walked into our shop on Church Street, chances are Cal has at least attempted to sell you a copy of Wendell Berry’s book Jayber Crow. Cal and his wife, Heather, are both dedicated evangelists for Wendell Berry’s work, which spans fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and even a children’s book. (Once, when a customer gave us a Christmas list of about a dozen relatives of all ages and interests, Cal tried to sell her a Wendell Berry book for each one of them, insisting that there’s a perfect Berry pick for everyone.)
Mr. Berry is an excellent writer, but it takes more than clever writing to make us rave this much about an author. His books teach thoughtfulness, community and the importance of creating a life of substance and authenticity. They help us see the beauty in the way our lives are intertwined with others’. They turn us toward the truth that the seemingly small actions in our lives, from the things we buy to the way we spend our free time to the way we treat our neighbors, actually mean a great deal.
Wendell Berry is speaking tonight at Samford, and we’ve rarely seen Cal so excited. The rest of us are making fun of him a little (after all, he’s acting a bit like a girl from The Ed Sullivan Show seeing The Beatles for the first time), but we know that this is about more than being a superfan. It’s really about being able to share the work of someone who has profoundly influenced your life with others.
It’s a privilege that we’re thankful for today especially, as we sell copies of Jayber Crow and Hannah Coulter, as Cal recites poems from A Timbered Choir and looks forward to seeing one of his heroes tonight. But it’s also the reason we started this business in the first place — to get to share our passions with you, and learn about yours in return. Thank you for letting us do that, every day.
Giving up coffee or sugar? Have a creamy Yerba Mate Latte. Skipping chocolate? Try a Treehugger!
Lots of our customers have been telling us about what they’re giving up for Lent. Frankly, many of you look a little lost without your morning coffee or afternoon cookie. The good news? We have lots of ideas for replacing whatever you’ve given up with another option to make your Lenten sacrifice just a little less grim.
I read The Thorn and the Blossom while enjoying a cappuccino from Urban Standard, my other favorite Primavera shop.
The Thorn and the Blossom is a truly beautiful book. The vines and flowers on the cover perfectly set the scene for the story. Inside, pen-and-ink sketches give the reader just a hint of what the characters look like without spelling everything out. Plus, the content and format themselves are innovative: The story is told twice, from two different perspectives. Read it from Evelyn’s perspective; then flip the book over to read it from Brendan’s (or vice versa — the stories can be read in either order). This little magic trick is worked through accordion-folded paper and an extremely talented design team.
Oddly, we have the eBook to thank for creative bindings like this one. Now that publishers have to give customers a reason to choose books printed on paper over their electronic cousins, they’re more willing to take chances with paper arts and graphic design. We’re seeing this in small ways in books like The Night Circus (lots of graphic elements and fun type treatments) and in bigger ways through collections like Penguin’s deluxe clothbound editions, books that look gorgeous on your shelf in a way a Kindle never could. A paper copy of The Thorn and the Blossom gives you a tactile experience that its eBook edition can’t match.
On the other hand, intricate design and printing gimmicks can be tricky, putting even more pressure on a book to perform as a story. The content must be stronger than its packaging, and, in that respect, The Thorn and the Blossom didn’t deliver for me. It’s a tale of two star-crossed lovers whose lives are intertwined with scholarship, literature and magic (we have appearances by giants, a witch, and a heroine who literally glows with second sight). I’m a sucker for all these elements (I tore through Discovery of Witches, even though it’s not exactly high literature), but The Thorn and the Blossom never pulled me in. I just didn’t care what happened to Evelyn and Brendan. More than anything else, they annoyed me.
Of course, I have a high bar when it comes to romance and fantasy — I love them when they’re held together with a powerful story, and I hate them when they’re not. If you’re a sucker for any love story, or if a magical book never fails to cast a spell, I’d give The Thorn and the Blossom a shot. But, for me, it was a little like a disappointing relationship: perfect on paper, but the spark just wasn’t there.
By Sri Koduri
For years, many of us went regularly to local coffee shops and to get our cup of coffee in Birmingham, until the early 2000 when coffee chains stepped into the scene. They had the glitz and glamour that attracted most of us to frequent them, sometimes forgetting our local coffee shops. But, the local flavor, personalized approach, loyalty, coziness, and the community-feel has drawn us back, and now there’s a widespread return to our own local coffee houses.
A couple of things to consider …
These are good enough reasons for me to think as an informed customer to make intelligent choices to buy coffee from local roasters that support the local economy!!!!
Coffee News …
A couple of weeks ago, El Salvador was hit by historic floods, and almost all coffee farms have been impacted by them. Let’s show our care and support to the farmers and their families who depend on coffee beans by buying a bag of El Salvador. This is another way we can impact small economies in big ways by buying coffee!!!!
In Conclusion …
We at Church Street Coffee & Books serve and sell coffee roasted at Primavera Coffee, a local roaster in Cahaba Heights. Most of Primavera’s Coffee selections are lightly roasted (Guatemala, Ethiopian Yirgacheffe, Colombian, and, of course, El Salvador), although they do offer stronger coffees like Sumatra and French Roast.
Stop by today and buy a bag of these exquisite coffees and be proud of shopping local.
Sri Koduri is coffee guru and barista extraordinaire at Church Street Coffee & Books.
Until next time … Cheers!!!!
Starting Church Street has been wonderful, but it’s also been full of hard work. Last week in particular was challenging, both at work and personally, and I was longing for a book that would take me out of the daily grind and help me see the bigger picture, that would help me believe in the beauty and mystery that so easily gets lost I concentrate on the daily details of my job. I picked up The Art of Hearing Heartbeats, just out in paperback, and it was perfect — beautifully written with a compelling plot and believable characters, plus a message that I really needed to hear.
Technically, it’s a love story. But it isn’t about happy endings, sappy sentiment or the idea that soulmates stay together forever. In this story, love is a powerful force that changes how you experience life, not a simple solution for immediate happiness.
The plot involves a young woman, Julia, who goes in search of her missing father and ends up in his birthplace, Burma, listening to a tall tale from a mysterious stranger who knows intimate details about her life and her father’s story. As she listens to the man talk, she’s exposed to all the mystery, magic and shadowy superstitions that are part of daily life in his impoverished town. As an American, and as a child abandoned by her father, she’s resistant to superstition, angry over how nonsensical and impractical it seems. But, as the mystery man’s story continues, Julia starts to suspend her disbelief. It’s only after doing this that she’s able to move beyond logic and fact and get to the real truth about her family.
The Art of Hearing Heartbeats challenges our treasured Western ideas: Seeing isn’t necessarily believing. Two plus two isn’t always four. The shortest distance between two points may not be a straight line. Imposing total order on our lives is tempting, but that path doesn’t allow for mystery, and mystery is part of the reality of life.
While The Art of Hearing Heartbeats isn’t a traditional romance, it’s also not a morality tale. It challenges both superstition and science, but it doesn’t decide between the two — both worldviews have their own advantages and problems, and we see both sides through the characters. The author doesn’t try to get Julia, or the reader, to abandon the Western world. Instead, we’re asked to allow love, sacrifice, and even a bit of faith, into our life of reason.
Jenna’s Bag O’ Books will be full of free paperbacks on World Book Night!
You know that feeling when you love a book so much that you want to give copies to everyone you meet? You can’t stop talking about it. You want someone to discuss it with. You want someone else to feel as excited as you do about the characters, the plot, the story. But you can’t march everyone into the bookstore with you and force them to buy the book, and you can’t afford to buy a box of books just to hand them out to everyone you see.
Or can you?
World Book Night is your chance to do just that. Register to be a giver by filling out this form. If you’re chosen, they’ll send you a box of twenty copies of your selected book. The book list this year is pretty amazing — it includes Hunger Games, Bel Canto, Friday Night Lights, Poisonwood Bible, Kite Runner, The Glass Castle and more.
The catch? They ask that you give the books to people who aren’t usually readers. That means no libraries or bookstores (not even Church Street). But your favorite restaurant, your kid’s soccer game, a farmer’s market, a bar or a park are all fair game. It’s a great way to connect with books and with your community.
World Book Night is April 23, but the deadline to be a book giver is tomorrow, so click here to learn more and complete your free registration.
A snapshot of the spices we steep with our chai then strain into honey. Too bad you can’t smell it, because the scent is heavenly!
Most people know that we bake all our own pastries (and trail mix, granola and biscotti) here at Church Street. But did you know we brew our own chai for the Chai Latte? Since this little trick was mentioned in the B Metro’s 10 Spots last week, we’ve had lots of questions about our chai blend.
Chai is popular because it’s so delicious — in America, what we call a Chai Latte refers to a blend of black tea, spices, sugar and milk. It’s caffeinated, creamy and very tasty. It’s a nice change of pace from your regular espresso-based latte, and lots of people who don’t like the taste of coffee do enjoy their chai. (In India, where this taste originated, “chai” is a more generic term that refers to black tea. But here, when people say “chai” they’re usually talking about the latte.)
We’ve been serving chai at Church Street since we opened. The only problem was, the syrup that we (and most other coffee shops) used for the base of the drink was loaded with sugar and nasty preservatives (we pretty much think all preservatives are kind of nasty and avoid them when we can). So Heather and Sri set to work on developing our own tea blend.
After much trial and error (and delicious taste testing from the staff), Heather came up with a recipe for a Chai Latte we’re proud to serve (and proud to brew — it smells so good when it’s steeping that Sri makes potpourri out of the stuff). What’s not in it? Anything artificial. What is? Here’s a list:
We steep all of this together, then strain it, steam it with milk and serve it to dozens of chai fans every day. Haven’t tried our Chai Latte yet? Stop in for a taste — it tastes great hot or iced.
Reading Leftovers. Eating leftovers. So meta.
Although I judge books by their covers all the time, I try not to judge readers by their choices. You might like pulpy mysteries, dramatic vampire fiction, chick-lit paperbacks or serialized sci-fi and, while it may not all be my cup of tea, I respect your choices. But every so often, a book comes along that tests my open minded aspirations — such was the case with the Left Behind series, a set of books that boiled the mystical, prophetic Christian concept of the Rapture into a series of formulaic novels that flew off the shelves “in the blink of an eye,” if you’ll pardon the pun.
So I had to smile when I heard Tom Perrotta was taking on The Rapture in his new novel — and that the title, The Leftovers, is a pretty funny twist on the uber-popular Left Behind moniker. Perrotta’s books aren’t usually spiritual. With bestsellers like Little Children and Election (they’ve been turned into movies, so you might associate them with Reese Witherspoon or Kate Winslet), he’s proven himself as a master of screwed up suburbia with an emphasis on the slightly (or not so slightly) pervy Dad Next Door.
The danger with spoofing Christian fiction is that you risk attacking religion itself, and, while there’s sometimes validity in that, it doesn’t seem like mocking the sincerely held views of millions of people is really what Perrotta is going for here. In The Leftovers, I think he strikes a good balance, mocking sectarianism without perverting spirituality.
Instead of railing against religion indiscriminately, he exposes the hypocrisy behind organizing the plans of an all-knowing, all-powerful God into a series of charts, graphs and trite dogmas. Here’s what gets speared with Perrotta’s sarcasm-laced pen: cults of personality, perversions of faith, attacking people in the name of religion, and throwing out the core of the Gospel in favor of a few chosen, out-of-context passages. But some things are sacred — namely genuine faith, true friendship and familial love.
What makes this credible fiction instead of hollow cleverness is that Perrotta puts real story behind his sarcasm. The families in the book who lose their loved ones react to their pain by retreating from each other, sometimes emotionally and sometimes physically. It’s a compelling portrait of how we as humans deal with abandonment, often by repeating the process instead of confronting it and healing from it. The genius of The Leftovers isn’t Perrotta’s portrayal of religion, or his searing wit, however great they may be. It’s the humanity that comes through in his characters, and the way their story changes the way we look at our own lives.
We were hugely surprised and honored yesterday to see that Church Street Coffee & Books made it onto B Metro’s 10 Spots: New Restaurants for the New Year! The list is quite an impressive group, if we do say so ourselves, with restaurants like El Barrio, already among our favorites, and Paramount, which we can’t wait to try. Thanks to B Metro for including us!
The other big news yesterday? Our coffee supplier, Primavera, will merge with Atlanta-based Octane. This is news we’ve been excited about for a long time, so we’re so happy we can finally tell you about it. Octane, like Primavera, is a company dedicated to the very best in coffee. The fact the two are working together now means a more diverse supply of beans and roasts, more opportunity to hunt down and bring home amazing tastes, and more creativity and dedication to making sure your morning cup is the best you’ve ever had. Read more about Octane and Primavera in Sunday’s The Birmingham News.