SEPTEMBER 16, 2020

WHAT DOES COFFEE do to you? Dinah Lenney’s Coffee is a free-form exploration of such surprisingly complicated questions: Why do we drink coffee? What gives it its power? Humans have been considering these and other coffee-related queries (like “Is it good for my health?” and “Is it good for my society?”) for centuries, ever since they first encountered the substance. Lenney is most interested in coffee’s direct effects on our lived experience, and what they mean.

The active property of coffee is called caffeine, as we all know. The word for the compound was coined in 1830, as a result of research by two different groups of scientists — one in Jena, Germany, led by a young chemist Ferdinand Runge, and the other in France, led by Pierre Jean Robiquet and Pierre Joseph Pelletier. Both groups successfully isolated the active substance of coffee in an organic “base” or vegetable salt. They showed that this salt caused the effects associated with coffee in humans. Caffeine, in other words, is the drug, and coffee is its vehicle.

[Read the full review at Los Angeles Review of Books]


Spring 2020 Nonfiction Picks

Your morning cup of joe is more complicated than it looks. Just ask Dinah Lenney, author of Coffee, the latest in Bloomsbury’s Object Lessons series—which asks writers to ruminate on ordinary things in complex terms. Lenney’s distinctively urgent voice is perfect for this form. She presents herself as a connoisseur (her coffee ritual includes freshly roasted small-batch beans brewed in a Chemex) but not an elitist: Chock Full o’ Nuts gets the same attention as the pricier stuff. Where Lenney really shines, though, is in her ability to interweave environmental, sociopolitical, and cultural concerns with reflections on time, womanhood, and family. Her lyrical prose is as invigorating as a strong jolt of caffeine.

—Liska Jacobs





Be mindful…and smell the coffee!
Meet Dinah Lenney, author of Coffee

An accomplished actress (NBC’s ER) and writer, Dinah Lenney, is the subject of this month's shout-out profile. The author of the memoir Bigger than Life: A Murder, A Memoir and the memoir-in-essays collection The Objects Parade: Essays. Her latest book, Coffee, is a love letter to her favorite beverage and part of the Object Lessons series published by Bloomsbury. She’s a core faculty member of the Bennington Writing Seminars, and a master of capturing moments in mindful ways.

There’s so much we can and do say about Dinah’s new book, but we think her publisher puts it best: “Coffee – it's the thing that gets us through, and over, and around. The thing – the beverage, the break, the ritual – we choose to slow ourselves down or speed ourselves up. The excuse to pause; the reason to meet; the charge we who drink it allow ourselves in lieu of something stronger or scarier. Coffee goes to lifestyle, and character, and sensibility: where do we buy it, how do we brew it, how strong can we take it, how often, how hot, how cold? How does coffee remind us, stir us, comfort us? But Coffee is about more than coffee: it's a personal history and a promise to self; in her confrontation with the hours (with time-big picture, little picture), Dinah Lenney faces head-on the challenges of growing older and carrying on.” Making coffee, drinking coffee – Dinah loves the whole ritual of re-entering life in the morning or even afternoon. She feels it slows her down, enabling her to fully enjoy each small moment of the day. In these times, as we all spend more time appreciating the advantages of staying in, the experience of coffee (or tea, if you prefer), can be one of healing and rejuvenation.

Let’s pour a cup and take a little “sip” from Dinah’s book, which came out this week:

“But from here arises another question: what is pleasure? From whence does it come? If you believe that pleasure, joy, happiness, a sense of wellbeing, goes arm in arm with anticipation, well then, alright, deferral turns out to be not so unpleasant – not an ordeal. All the better, though, or possibly equally gratifying to think that embracing your certain demise might allow you to accept that whether or not you have anything certain to look forward to (other than death), look around: you actually have what you have, you are what you are right now. In which case, there’s pleasure in just making the coffee in your own little house, in your own little kitchen, with a view that includes a little square of window below, a stranger’s window, where, you imagine, the stranger is also straddling the past and the future to imagine herself into this moment now.”

Read the full excerpt from Dinah's new book and her Q & A with Ari Saperstein here.




“A great introduction to fresh writing.” Starred review

“[S]harply focused. . . crisp and thoughtful pieces. . . .Such an anthology makes an excellent companion for readers seeking brief takes offering inspiration, commiseration, or the unexpected.”

“The works selected for inclusion are as delightfully varied in terms of tone, style, and subject matter as they are individually unique from each other.”

— Kirkus Reviews

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The Object Parade

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Enjoy this recent article featuring excerpts from the book posted at The Nervous Breakdown, April 21, 2014. [Full Post]


"How better to track the stages, shape, and meaning of a life than by way of the significant objects in it? But Dinah Lenney is a good deal more than clever. Every object she embraces in this beautifully-wrought book -- the piano, the Christmas tree, the mole, the green earrings -- discloses the compressed and hidden power of things, the nouns with which we write our lives. Piece by piece, the author reveals herself as a first rate observer in possession of a kind and generous mind -- the most treasurable object in her rich parade.”

— Roger Rosenblatt

“The Object Parade is a wonderful book—an inquiry, a quest. The relation of objects to individuals is perhaps its secret charm. It doesn't simply narrate —underneath is the persistent urgency to understand, to consider, beyond the joys and anguish of the self, the meaning of these bright and sometimes out-of-focus slides that pass before us, revealing not only a life but a growing consciousness. I read with deep pleasure and that sensation of being in a book, that is rarer than it should be."

— Patricia Hampl

“Spoon, piano, flight jacket, Ferris wheel—The Object Parade courts tactile memory. Driven by Dinah Lenney's distinctive, insouciant voice, at once engagingly authoritative and tenaciously self-questioning, the heft of a guitar, smell of chicken simmering, or ticking metronome are brought to life again, then re-examined under the magnifying glass of time. The story of family and fate (with its rich panoply of relationship and revelation) unfolds here as "one thing" does inevitably "lead to another" in the hands of an author who gives us genuine insight at its subtle, insistent best.”

— Judith Kitchen, author of Half in Shade and The Circus Train

"From politics to the piano to the lament of a mourning dove, Dinah Lenney looks life in the eye and never finds it wanting. Like Proust's madeleines, her "objects" scent the terrain of this book with memories from the evanescent to the profound. The world itself, examined with joy, shines out through each small detail. You will love this book, one object at a time, right down to its very end."

— Linda Gray Sexton, author of Searching for Mercy Street: My Journey Back to My Mother, Anne Sexton and Half in Love: Surviving the Legacy of Suicide.

“The Object Parade is a rich, poignant homage to, quite literally, the stuff of life. Lenney is a gifted essayist, but her ear for the riddles and rhythms of language reveals the sensibilities of a poet—even a musician. She doesn't just write to us. She sings to us. You won't just read this collection, you will hear it.”

— Meghan Daum

“Dinah Lenney's marvel of a book is both unflinching and confiding. Her subjects are, ostensibly, the familiar objects of daily life. But no matter what this writer sets her sights on--a scarf, a coffee scoop, a pair of shoes--its sure to yield unexpected meanings, intricate histories, and memorable stories. The objects in this parade quickly transcend their personal significance to the writer and stir the reader with a sharpened sense of life's pleasures and risks. Lenney knows that everything we touch has the power to change us.”

— Bernard Cooper

“..heart-stopping..This creatively structured book remains an enjoyable read, and the standout essays merit the price of admission.”

— Publishers Weekly

“A pensive perusal of the objects that can define and shape a life… the collection’s pieces build on each other, layer upon vivid layer of Lenney’s personal history, her heart firmly invested in hearth and home…One of the book’s most moving entries also happens to be its shortest: a strikingly gorgeous, two-page homage to Lenney’s daughter, portrayed as a young girl bouncing in the sun trailing a kite flush with bright streamers. An eclectic treasury of the cherished and the evocative.”

— Kirkus Reviews

"Lenney draws upon her experiences as a working actor and mother, offering a reflective and candid look at the connection between sentiment and necessity."

— Book List


Nelson Gross
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A brilliant contribution to autobiographical, literary non-fiction, the author takes us right into her consciousness, and recreates thought and feelings with passion and restraint. This book is a model of engaged and engaging memoir-writing.


I read this in one sitting, transported into the life of a man I now feel I knew personally. It's a compelling story about death and the way life goes on around it — beautifully written and perfectly orchestrated, a book that is as enlightening as it is easy to read.


Flash Nonfiction
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The new Field Guide contains craft essays on writing flash nonfiction from these esteemed writers, editors, and teachers in the nonfiction field: Barrie Jean Borich, Jenny Boully, Norma Cantú, Rigoberto Gonzalez, Carol Guess, Jeff Gundy, Philip Graham, Robin Hemley, Barbara Hurd, Judith Kitchen, Eric LeMay, Dinah Lenney, Bret Lott, Patrick Madden, Lee Martin, Maggie McKnight, Brenda Miller, Kyle Minor, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Anne Panning, Lia Purpura, Sue William Silverman, Jennifer Sinor, Peggy Shumaker, Ira Sukrungruang, Nicole Walker.

American Lives
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Memoirs are as varied as human emotion and experience, and those published in the distinguished American Lives Series run the gamut. Excerpted from this series (called “splendid” by Newsweek) and collected here for the first time, these dispatches from American lives take us from China during the Cultural Revolution to the streets of New York in the sixties to a cabin in the backwoods of Idaho.

My Frist Novel
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My First Novel

Have you ever wondered how your favorite authors got their start? How did they make the leap from closet scribe to published author? In My First Novel: Tales of Woe and Glory, twenty-five authors recount the variety of hurdles, both internal and external that they had to overcome on their journey.

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Becoming: What Makes a Woman

Edited by Jill McCabe Johnson, and with a forward by Janice Deeds, Ph.D., of the University of Nebraska Gender Programs.

The diverse collection includes essays and poems by Ellen Bass, Peggy Shumaker, Lia Purpura, Dinah Lenney, Judith Slater, Marjorie Saiser, Dilruba Ahmed, Julie L. Moore, Maria Terrone, and more.