Lifting a Glass of Edgar Allan Porter

The literary love in Sacramento is so great that it has overspilled its margins and now fills glasses. Of course I’m talking about a custom fall ale created by local brewery New Helvetia, the Edgar Allan Porter.

beer mat with Poe quote about beer

I would not have known about the new beer were it not for the library. That’s right, the Sacramento Library partnered with New Helvetia as part of their One Book Sacramento program to promote a new collection of works by Edgar Allan Poe. The new anthology is called the Slender Poe and it was custom published on the Espresso Book Machine printer at Central Library. You can learn more about the library’s program and purchase a copy of the book by clicking on the photo below.

slender poe

Library staff graphic designer Laura Koivunen created the simple yet elegant cover and interior artwork, and local professor John Allen Cann selected and organized the works in the anthology, and provided a cogent and personal introduction as well as brief notes on each work.

I met up last night with a group called Alt + Library for their book chat over Poe at New Helvetia.


From high school I remember only the smallest glimmers of Poe, namely the colors of light as they filter through the party room windows in the Masque of the Red Death. And, of course the image of Bart Simpson as the Raven (wait, the original poem doesn’t say “Eat my shorts?”). So having a reason to crack open Poe again was really a gift.

As someone who’s become a parent since my last “reading” of The Raven I now find that the relentless rhythmical repetitions involved in the action of reading the poem are every bit as horrifying as the idea of the big black bird itself. Mom, can I have some candy? Not now. Can we go to the park? Later. Can we play Wii? Are we there yet? Sister hit me. Nevermore!

You might know there are many macabre means of death and murder in Poe. I will say only that the story of Hop Frog is one of these murder stories, and once read it cannot be un-read. Don’t let this charming picture fool you.

IMG_3219As I enjoyed my 10 oz serving of the 9.2 ABV porter, the group talked at length about sickness and death, and options for disposing of bodies after death that Poe would likely have approved of, such as making diamonds from cremated remains. Also we discussed how modern medicine and hospital-bed end days have changed, but not by any means eliminated, our fascination with death.

Other random thoughts:

Why was “the consumption” considered by some a fashionable disease? Is it a good idea to read children books about death to educate them about it, since these days it is much less likely a child would have to see a loved one waste away at home or have to empty a chamber pot full of coughed-up blood? (The librarians had several good suggestions along those lines.)

If The Premature Burial plays on a then-popular theme of being buried alive, what would be its contemporary horror story equivalent? The group advanced a couple of ideas on this, for example the narrative of “ordinary person next door who turns out to be a psychopath.”

How it is possible that in Poe’s time so much was known about astronomy but so little was known about dental health and germs?

[Comets] had been known to pass about the satellites of Jupiter, without bringing about any sensible alteration either in the masses or the orbits of these secondary planets.

To read The Conversation of Eiros and Charmion (quoted above), about a comet that destroys the earth, you might think it was ripped from a 21st century Hollywood script, with a 19th century narrative style overlaid.

Finally, and not at all related to the questions above, what is the reason for that vexing literary convention of using a letter and a long dash to avoid printing the whole name of certain individuals?

Well, but G——, what of the purloined letter?

I don’t care so much about the answer to that question as I do that I got to hang out with enthusiastic readers and wonder together about it. Cheers.


4 thoughts on “Lifting a Glass of Edgar Allan Porter

  1. Laura Koivunen
    October 17, 2013 at 2:32 pm

    I really enjoyed your post! Very thoughtful and thorough, makes all the work worth it!

  2. Susan Herman
    October 17, 2013 at 2:45 pm

    Thanks for reading, Laura. That must have been a fun project to work on. You should be proud of it!