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  • Mara Soloway

Reading in Coffee Shops

Updated: Oct 10, 2023

I like reading, I like exploring coffee shops. Here’s my latest thing: I’m going to do both at once – challenge my intellect to read actual printed material – as opposed to my phone or my palm – for 30 minutes while sampling caffeine out and about.

Day 1

Sunday, October 1, 2023


BlendIn on US 90 in Sugar Land

Being here just seems to raise my IQ. It is not a chain so lacks corporate coffeehouse sterility. It doesn’t have a cutesy logo. The owner cares about coffee – where it’s grown, who grows it, what its properties are. Burlap bags of bean are strewn around in the side rooms. You can buy coffees and equipment and take classes to learn more.

I managed to snag one of the coveted indoor window seats. (Note to self: 1:59 pm on Sundays is a magic time to get there.)

What I ordered

Tall cold brew with almond milk, which adds an odd flavor. Next time I’ll get it with milk.

What I read

Why this book

I found this library book one Saturday morning incongruously nestled between a book on the Obamas and the Gaines of Magnolia fame. As a member of the I Romanticize Paris club, I wanted learn what these seemingly disparate women experienced there.

Each of these women spent a year in Paris as part of a college program (1949-50, 1957-58 and 1963-64 respectively). Each had long felt driven to go to Paris. To keep this in the range of 500 words, I’m going to quote one of the reviews on the back:

“A fascinated group portrait of three different women from three different generations who trajectories nevertheless converge in … Paris. In this lively, original biographie a trois, Alice Kaplan shows how time spent living in the French capital and and learning about its culture gave each of these sui generis heroines her own ideas of what counted and how those ideas in turn became an indelible part of the American political and cultural landscape.”

Caroline Weber, historian and author

Kaplan manages to pack a lot of biography and history into two chapters per person. I appreciate the explanations about how the political events of the day shaped each woman’s life trajectory.

World War II was over when Jackie was there, but food and heating oil were still scarce. The French Indochina War was ongoing; once she returned to the US, she expected a job offer from the CIA because of her knowledge of all things French and the international relations classes she took in Paris. We know she never made it to the CIA. She used that knowledge in the service of government in her own way and became the first First Lady to make her opinions known during her husband's meetings with his advisors.

Angela Davis grew up in segregated Birmingham. This oppressive existence alone is enough to inspire political activism. She was in Paris during the 1963 church bombings. She saw racism in France as well including the police using water hoses on demonstrators. You get a clear sense of how she developed her often controversial (although not to her) political thinking and actions to right injustice.

Next step: read the section on Susan Sontag.

Concentration rating 1-5

(1 is low, 5 is stellar: so focused I didn’t notice the place getting robbed)

Barely even a 3. I admit – my powers of concentration were challenged by my interruptive thoughts. “This is so fun.” “Cool music.” “That woman looks familiar.”

I chalk this middling rating up to it being my first outing. Plus I had some stress because I had set myself up to write something. I expect to have better focus next time...

Ciao for niao!


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