Book review: Coffee with Poe

In honor of my new Poe coffee mug, I am going to review: Coffee with Poe
(The closet thing you will get to an Edgar A. Poe autobiography!)

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While I have been a Poe fan for many years, I only know the basics about his life. Coffee with Poe was an enjoyable way to learn more about Poe without having to hit the stuffy history books. I found myself fact-checking the author, Andrew Barger, when details popped up that I found hard to believe. I found most of the events portrayed in the book to be accurate or at least based on established theories. However, as much as I want to believe Poe was a fan of coffee I have not seen much to back it up in online sources (I would love if someone proved me wrong on this!). Obviously there are many parts of the poet’s life that remain a mystery, including his death. Barger does a good job of incorporating some more respected theories into the story.

A few of Poe’s letters and poetry are interspersed through the text. The added context of the when and why he was writing these letters made these additions more enjoyable than they would be on their own. After reading Coffee with Poe I’m not sure if I would have liked Poe had I known him in person. In multiple letters to John Allan he both rails against him and then begs him for money, which is ironic and a bit childish. The author downplays Poe’s drinking, perhaps how Poe would have done in real life but does discuss Poe’s low tolerance of alcohol. Poe’s financial struggles, his romantic relationships, and the quarrels with his many detractors were also well illustrated in this book.
There were some typos and editing oversights, especially towards the end of the book. Some of the dialogue, especially in the first few chapters, was not realistic and even a bit cringe-worthy at times. I almost didn’t make it past the first few chapters due to this, but I am glad I did as the book picked up once it got to Poe’s adult life. There were a few anachronisms, for instance a character ordering a Caesar salad while out to lunch with Poe. I don’t think these were a thing at that time?! However these flaws are forgivable in the overall scheme of this book. A large amount of research obviously went into this work and these are just minor quibbles. I would recommend this to any fan of Edgar Allan Poe who wants to know more about the tragic but fascinating life of this author.

UPDATE: I found out (from Andrew Barger!!!) that the title of this book comes from a quote about Poe by Sarah Helen Whitman: “…never seen him inspired by any more dangerous stimulant than strong coffee, of which he was very fond & of which he drank freely. MacIntosh says that the measure of a man’s brain is the amount of coffee he can drink with impunity.” So yes, Poe was a coffee fan!!

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