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Powell's Q&A

Taylor Clark

Describe your latest project.
The book is called Starbucked: A Double Tall Tale of Caffeine, Commerce, and Culture, and it's my attempt to tell the story of how our fine nation threw off the cruel reign of flavor crystals and acrid diner coffee, and opted instead for the cruel reign of designer four-dollar lattes. The book's main character, of course, is Starbucks, the caffeine juggernaut that brought espresso to the masses, built a 15,000-store empire, and changed the way we all drink, recreate, and self-medicate. Since I'm not a fan of most business books, I've taken everything about the coffeehouse phenomenon that I found interesting or funny and tried to weave it into an entertaining narrative that I hope will appeal to anyone with even the faintest interest in the coffee world. I also delve into the ethical dilemmas that have plagued Starbucks of late (the prices it pays coffee farmers, its role in gentrification, etc.), so you might say the book is like a Fast Food Nation of coffee, but with less of an editorial agenda against the industry and more lame jokes.

  1. Starbucked: A Double Tall Tale of Caffeine, Commerce, and Culture
    $10.95 Used Hardcover add to wishlist
    "Entertaining, illuminating and reflective are not qualities usually associated with corporate histories. But Taylor Clark...has written a story about one business that's all of these." San Francisco Chronicle

    "An absorbing account bolstered by solid reporting." Kirkus Reviews

If someone were to write your biography, what would be the title and subtitle?
How to Infuriate Friends and Avoid People: The Sub-Glamorous Life and Deeds of a Neurotic Freelance Writer. Representative passage: "But then the next day, Clark managed to get out of the house for a staggering three hours — a record-setting achievement he celebrated by spending several hours in a dark room playing video games."

Introduce one other author you think people should read, and suggest a good book with which to start.
I'm inclined to say that anyone who hasn't read P.G. Wodehouse deserves a sound smack across the face, but since Wodehouse is quite well known, I'll go with Robert Caro instead. Caro is the kind of reporter who makes weakling nonfiction writers like myself want to hang it up and become insurance salesmen, because the level of detail he gets on his subjects is so far beyond what anyone else can even dream of. For his multivolume biography of Lyndon Johnson, Caro could probably tell you what Johnson had for breakfast on his fourteenth birthday — he's that good. He can be a bit long-winded at times, but it's gripping stuff that will change the way you see the political world. Start with The Path to Power and see if you can stop.

Describe the best breakfast of your life.
Any morning spent with my girlfriend, coffee, and a crossword from the New York Times (a midweek puzzle, since we're philistines and can't fill in a single damn clue after Thursday) qualifies as great. It doesn't really matter what we're eating.

Why do you write?
It's the only thing I've ever really wanted to do for a living, and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. Plus, my American Idol audition was a catastrophic failure.

Fahrenheit, Celsius, or Kelvin?
Fahrenheit is a nonsense system (zero degrees Fahrenheit means nothing special, yet water freezes and boils at the more-or-less random numbers of 32 and 212 degrees? Thanks for planning ahead, science...), but we have no other choice. You know it's a spectacularly hot day when the thermometer tops 100 degrees, but if we used Celsius, we'd have to be like, "Hey, it's over 37.8 degrees out there! Whew!" And then we'd just feel stupid.

On a clear and cold day, do you typically get outside into the sunshine or stay inside where it's warm?
What exactly do you mean by this word "outside"? I'm not sure I've heard it before. Are you referring to that horrible, chaotic place between my front door and the car?

Seriously, though, in Portland you have to take full advantage of those few days when the sun decides to make a cameo appearance, lest your body should forget what ultraviolet light is. And besides, there are only so many days one can go for a run outside during the winter in Portland without a risk of quick death by exposure.

In the For-All-Eternity category, what will be your final thought?
"Wait, did I leave my headlights on?"

Recommend five or more books on a single subject of personal interest or expertise.

Five very funny books that have very little in common other than being very funny:

At Swim-Two-Birds by Flann O'Brien

Very Good, Jeeves! by P.G. Wodehouse

Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto by Chuck Klosterman

Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis

Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris

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Taylor Clark is a graduate of Dartmouth College and a Pacific Northwest native. He is a contributing writer and former staff writer for Portand, Oregon's acclaimed alternative weekly Willamette Week.


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