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Drinking Coffee Elsewhere

3.85  ·  Rating details ·  6,133 ratings  ·  670 reviews
Chosen by John Updike as a Today Show Book Club Pick. Already an award-winning writer, ZZ Packer now shares with us her debut, Drinking Coffee Elsewhere. Her impressive range and talent are abundantly evident: Packer dazzles with her command of language, surprising and delighting us with unexpected turns and indelible images, as she takes us into the lives of characters on ...more
Paperback, 265 pages
Published February 3rd 2004 by Riverhead Books
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Average rating 3.85  · 
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Posted at Shelf Inflicted

“We had all been taught that adulthood was full of sorrow and pain, taxes and bills, dreaded work and dealings with whites, sickness and death.”

This collection of stories is brimming with energy, hardship, sadness, humor, and compassion. The characters’ voices and life experiences are so authentic that I was able to forget about my own life and problems for a few days. I loved how these stories explored race and class in a provocative way and through an African-Ameri
Jan 30, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: short-stories
Its a problem when you start to become more excited about picking your next read than you are about finishing your current one. Or when you think you’re almost done and your reaction is - Oh. One more story - instead of - Oh! One more story! As much as I wanted to love this book - I didn't. There were three stories that I was eager to see what would happen, but the others I found myself flipping to see how many pages they had left. I’m not sure what the problem was because the use of sarcasm mad ...more
Jan 28, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This is a perfect example of reading the right book at the wrong time.

A decade ago I read this collection of stories amidst about dozen other collections - I can see now that the ragged beauty and relentless, gritty storytelling was lost in the sea of other (lesser) works. But this time around I read the right book at the right time; Packer's live-wire sentences and perfectly constructed characters in a wide range of settings are about as close to perfection you can get in the writing of short f
Jan 08, 2008 rated it liked it
Recommended to Nathan by: my wife
After finishing up a string of dark and heady reads, I picked this up for some light summer reading, on my wife's recommendation. We had originally picked it to read together before bed. The conversation as best I remember went something like:

Me: Oh man, that Gary Soto book of short stories for children was really funny. that's perfect reading for right before bed.
Wife: (Already scanning the bookshelves in our bedroom) Oh yeah, we should pick out something else like that. Is this David Sedaris
Read By RodKelly
Mar 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A pretty much perfect collection of stories! I couldn't put this one down!
May 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Short stories get a bad rap. You can't scroll through a GR review page without coming across mounds of complaints about how the reviewer "just isn't a short story person" or "can't connect with short stories" or "felt nothing about the stories." Great! But a short story isn't supposed to be a novel. A good short story collection is meant to be savored and contemplated story by story, not plowed through in hopes of extracting a single tear. Anyways, I've made a commitment to conquer some of the c ...more
Aug 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
3.5 stars

The thoughts I shared while reading this collection of stories remain true: Packer crafts sentences and metaphors like she invented writing. I was simply astounded by the originality of her writing style. There were so many instances when I wanted to memorize a sentence or two because of how masterfully it was written. Drinking Coffee Elsewhere is a collection of short stories, brimming with talent, and featuring black protagonists, living in the U.S. or abroad, who are tinged with sadn
Apr 25, 2008 rated it really liked it
It's almost a chore to get past the praise excerpted in the first few pages of this debut story collection from 2003. Much better to simply turn to the stories themselves and make your own judgments. These are certainly accomplished short fictions, literary in the sense that their plots are asymmetical in interesting ways, many ending with codas that introduce ambiguity instead of wrapping up the drama. The subject is the African-American experience, of course, of all varieties: children, teenag ...more
Liz Yon)
Jun 24, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I read this book of stories in one day, it is so engaging. Each story is a perfect jewel, prised from the glittering mayhem of life, held up to the light of unsentimental regard, each facet clearly shown. The characters are absolutely true to life, their situations real and immediate in a way that makes me feel that Packer lived these things and these people - if not personally, then through people she knows well. Dialogue flows believably into the reader's "ear", turns of phrase are peppery and ...more
Dec 29, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: African American fiction lovers
Z.Z. Packer has been around for over a decade, but I'd never even heard of her until recently. Thank Heaven for Goodreads! Drinking Coffee Elsewhere is her debut collection of short stories; and I give it two big thumbs up. It isn't some perfect masterpiece and (of course) some stories grabbed me more than others, but it's good. Very good. I love the wide array of African American characters she brought to life- different ages, sexes, and lifestyles. From church ladies to queer lovers to runaway ...more
Jen Knox
Oct 18, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I've heard a lot of criticism about this book, so I put off reading it. This just goes to show I rarely agree with my friends when it comes to literature ... I loved it. "Drinking Coffee Elsewhere" was my favorite story in the collection, but I felt attached to all of them. Each one! I never say that about a collection.
Feb 21, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anyone who writes, anyone who reads
Recommended to Emily by: Michael
There are two things that I hate about my writing: the fact that it’s predictable and the fact that nothing happens.

On the other hand, what makes ZZ Packer such a spectacular writer is that her stories do the exact opposite of what mine do: they create original situations and characters that could only exist in her stories, and they move. The action moves, yes, but more importantly it moves you.

So many of the stories in Drinking Coffee Elsewhere feel familiar at first. They contain people and wo
A lot of these stories just petered off and seem to either over shoot the medium the author used or are just underwhelming over all. Out of the collection of stories, I only really enjoyed “Brownies,” “Our Lady of Peace,” and “The Ant of the Self.”

“Brownies” tells the story of an elementary aged group of Black girls who are on their annual Brownie Scouts retreat and have a run in with an all-white Brownie Scout group. The story worked due to Z. Z. Packer’s skilled use of slowly etching out chara
SheriC (PM)
I was enchanted with this book of short stories at first, but gradually lost enthusiasm as I progressed through the short stories. I love the author’s ability to draw characters through their actions and interactions with each other and their environment. I love her ability to create a sense of place and how her characters fit in that setting. I love the little thought-provoking moments in each story. But there was an unrelenting sameness to the stories. She likes Shirley Jackson-ish main charac ...more
Mar 24, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-2010
Ooh boy I am terribly behind on writing reviews. Um, what did I think of this? Well, it's a great example of why I hate short stories – when they're bad I wonder why I bothered, and when they're good I can't understand why the author only gave me such a tiny tease. The title story is the best, and "Our Lady of Peace" is great too... so why, ZZ, why? Either of those could have been novels, I'd have kept reading for lots more pages!

A couple of other thoughts:
1. By chance I got an Australian edit
Jan 24, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: women, bi-poc
Ugh. I spent the entire last part of this book debating in my head whether I was going to be generous and give it three stars, or be honest and stick it with two. I chose honesty.

This collection is not without its strengths: some careful writing, some witty characters. I downright enjoyed the one about the lesbians at college.

But I can't handle all the stupid main characters! Call me an idealist, but I can't imagine that even a sheltered Pentacostal Georgia girl would run off to Atlanta and, wi
Dec 13, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fab-15
This was such a wonderful surprise for me, never having heard of her before. Eight stories, none the least bit predictable, although with each one she was able to tease me a bit, get me thinking that I knew where it was going, but it never was! Real, charming people in pain and trouble dealing with life’s blows – good, good, good stuff!
Mar 29, 2015 rated it really liked it
One of the best books I've read in a while. Read it for tfa book club (aka three tfa friends drink a beer together monthly to talk about great literature by women of color). Unsettling and provoking and pretty sure one of the stories is about a tfa teacher.
Zeyn Joukhadar
Oct 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is one of the best short story collections I've ever read--incisive, moving, allowing characters to breathe on the page who often have the best of intentions but whose paths become complicated along the way by the simple fact of their having to navigate a racist, misogynistic world as Black women, and without judging their actions and reactions to their circumstances. Collections of this quality are extremely rare; ZZ Packer is an incredibly talented writer. I'll be reading and re-reading t ...more
Jeffrey Moll
Apr 07, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Upon picking up Drinking Coffee Elsewhere I quickly glanced over a few chapters and soon realized the gem in my hands. The dialog was the first thing that made me fall for this book while the realism behind ZZ Packer’s characterization was the second. A compiling of eight short stories this book takes on the African-American experience through the use of compelling protagonists that must keep taking on more challenges. In the title story, Dina the main character copes with her challenges by drin ...more
Never Without a Book
May 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Humor, compassion and unforgettable characters, these stories beg to be read. I highly recommend it.
Aug 20, 2009 rated it it was ok

This is one of those cases where the first story in the collection is so awesome, so perfect, so natural and funny and wise and honest that it's impossible not to expect some of that in the rest of the stories. "Brownies" is really fantastic, and should be (and will be) anthologized everywhere. There's a twist at the end that was, for me, entirely unforeseeable. This story deserves the rave reviews that the collection received. (Most of which are printed on the first 7 pages of the
Apr 12, 2015 rated it really liked it
About 5 of the stories in here were absolutely perfect, while a few fell a bit short for me (hence the 4 stars). I greatly appreciate ZZ Packer's attention to small details in her writing--it's what brings nuance and color to the characters she's created. The dialogue in her writing is sharp and precise, never taking up more space than it needs to. I was also impressed with the diverse array of characters and settings presented in each of these stories. From Tokyo to Baltimore to a girl scout su ...more
Rambling Reader
wonderful stories. can't wait to read her upcoming novel.
Sep 17, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2016-read
I haven't read a contemporary short story collection where the main characters are African-American. This was a nice mix.
Once upon a time, this was a hyped up work indeed. Combine that with being assigned one or two of the short stories in one of my classes during my last and most beloved year of undergrad, add in my own "diversity" sensitivities, and you have a recipe for my choosing to read this. After having done so, the usual spiel of my not being a short story person, plus apologies for reading a Woolf collection practically just before this, plus some other disinclinations on my part, and you have my unfortu ...more
May 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing
When I began reading Drinking Coffee Elsewhere by ZZ Packer, I was taken aback by the power of a good story; the kind of story that gives me a peek into a life I don’t know anything about, the kind of story that surprises me or that makes me stop a moment to contemplate what I’ve just read. Those are the kinds of stories that Packer has written for her first and only short story collection. She was first published in Seventeen magazine at the very young age of 19. She grew up in Atlanta, GA and ...more
Nicholas Armstrong
May 05, 2010 rated it did not like it
I'm not sure where to start with this, as I'm not sure which bothered me more or what takes precedent with a short story. Is the telling of the story more important than the voice? Is there something more important than both? What if both aren't quite up-to-snuff? That is kind of the case here and I'm a little put-off by it.

I'll start with the voice, because it was the first thing that bothered me and it consistently bothered me. Don't get me wrong, there are good stories within, or, at least de
Jul 16, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: owned-unread
I don't know how I feel about this. ZZ Packer is clearly a talented writer, and I found myself admiring the way she constructs sentences, but none of the stories stood out as being particularly moving or poignant, most of them seemed to end prematurely or run out of steam, and some of the descriptions of disabled people, lesbians, trans women...I don't know if I'm supposed to excuse them because of the merits of the writing as a whole and because it was written in 2003, but they really rubbed me ...more
Apr 04, 2018 marked it as to-read
Only read "Every Tongue Shall Confess", but the fierce religious conviction of the protagonist was refreshing and intriguing.
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ZZ Packer (born January 12, 1973) is an African-American author, notable for her works of short fiction. Born in Chicago, Illinois, she grew up in Atlanta, Georgia and Louisville, Kentucky. Her given name is Zuwena (Swahili for "good"), but "After a while of teachers mispronouncing my name and everyone else in the world, I began introducing myself as ZZ, and it just kind of stuck" Recognized as a ...more

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