Literature Review: Glass, Paper, Beans

            The sun rises over the horizon and I begin my morning reading the pages of Leah Hager Cohen’s Glass, Paper, Beans; sipping on a Starbuck’s house blend coffee, in an over sized glass, which holds a substantial amount of this homemade brew.  When truly analyzing these everyday items such as the pages that make up this book, the coffee that we drink and the glass that contains this liquid, our eyes are open to new ideas as Cohen interprets the lives behind these everyday commodities.  Her literary tactics seem to focus on giving the reader every detail of the myths, stories, facts, history, and analogies in order to construe a deeper idea of what is beyond our knowledge of life.  I admire how Cohen does not always particularly choose a side in many of these issues, but gives both sides of the particular matter aspiring to enticing the reader to come up with their own ideas and opinions on the subject at hand.  Cohen strongly conveys throughout these pages how the world has taken exquisite fetishes that people once marveled and embraced, turning them into commodities that lack a sense of history, and now merely hold a monetary value.

                With every sunrise, we enter the day together.  Cohen tries to give the reader an understanding that even though we do not know where the items that we use come from there is someone that lives under the same sky that produced these items and each thing within this universe contains a story.  Even Brent Boyd who harvests the Canadian forests”does not think of the end products of the trees he harvests as being directly traceable back to himself.”(Cohen, 135)  He brings the paper pulp to the factories, which create the newspaper that so many of us read on a daily basis.  Ruth Lamp supervises the mass production of glass in an Ohio factory, which she “believes the plant has made possible all that she now has in her life.”(Cohen, 37)  Cohen graphically depicts Ruth’s life as a person; tells her story, and yet the reader understands that the reason for the perfection of each glass might be possible since she “sometimes…checks for (these) more subtle defects…” (Cohen, 159)   Then there is Basilio Salinas who “cultivating coffee is not the means by which he has chosen to support a family; it is the force of gravity around which revolve his and his family’s lives.”(Cohen, 45) Basilio, unlike many others, does not believe that the money he receives for the coffee he has harvested is as important as the economical ideal that, “You alone are the boss of yourself.”(Cohen, 58) 

             A major point that I believe Cohen is emphasizing is the fact that historically glass, paper and beans were once fetishes.  “So long as knowledge of how to make and grow these items remained clandestine, their value was assured.”(Cohen, 69)  Now commodity fetishism, a “tendency to regard objects as though their essence and their monetary worth were one and the same,” has taken over. (Cohen, 11)  Children believe in things that they see in their dreams and “children yet somehow remain not entirely susceptible to, not completely convinced about money.”(Cohen, 245)  When forced into becoming an adult it is crucial to have faith in a monetary system because it “…is more convenient to conduct trade.”(Cohen, 226)  “Faith in currency is really an extension of faith in everyone else.”(Cohen, 227)  Using this form of exchange has simply diluted our impression of the true value of an object.  “When this value or price is artificially imposed, an abstraction masking the true identity of the object, the true story behind it.”(Cohen, 207)  Of course, the items we buy and sell are commodities that hide behind masks so that we might not know their history, but people are just the same, “we… wear masks.”(Cohen, 215)  We are unknown to each other and we do not know and sometimes do not care to know the stories of others.

             In conclusion, Cohen believes that our society has a bad tendency “of perceiving an object’s price as something intrinsic to and fixed within that object… rather than as the end result of a history of people and their labor.”(Cohen, 11)  That each of us is connected in this world through stories that relate every object and being in some way.  When I now get up in the morning and conduct my daily rituals, I have the knowledge that there is history and life in everything I touch.













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