Slate had a nice set of blurbs about what ‘great books’ authors have not read. The Bible. Gravity’s Rainbow. Moby Dick. Harry Potter. Aside from the obvious question of whether or not a Harry Potter book is ‘great,’ I’m happy that I’ve covered those. (Ok, three-fourths of the Bible.) Faulkner. Ulysses. The Brothers Karamazov. I have just not gotten to and suspect I should. I’ve read more than the average American, I’m sure, but at times I need coercion: I had to bring Gravity’s Rainbow as my only reading material for a trip to Europe to force myself to get through it. The same with Quixote on this summer’s trip to Scandinavia. I was once with a famous sociologist and s/he asked what I was teaching in my theory class that day. I said, excitedly, “The Frankfurt School.” “Who’s that?” s/he asked. At the time I was appalled, but maybe I’ve mellowed out over the years, or realized that I have plenty of blindspots of my own.
One of those blind spots is the entire populist oeuvre of Jonathan Kozol. Maybe it’s because I missed a general education in my undergraduate studies while studying architecture (I took a year off between college and grad school, in part, to catch up on Hemingway, Kafka, Calvino, Ondaatje, and the like), but I never got around to Kozol, who must be assigned in every third undergraduate class. Regardless, Kozol gave a talk at Mt. Holyoke College to promote his new book. It was mostly pretty interesting, but he kept insisting that ‘sociologists’ were to blame for the mechanized, overly rationalized No Child Left Behind. Wa? He also complained about academics who use big words, like ‘hegemonic’ and ‘Hegelian.’ As one of my students told me afterwards, “He sure didn’t seem to have any qualms about ‘pedagogy!”‘ I’ve always thought that I’d like Kozol, and I admired his better instincts, but I was a little underwhelmed.
Other ‘classic’ social science books I need to read? Hmmm. I’m still hoping to get to Origin of the Species. (Interesting fact, maybe: Robert E. Park and Ernest Burgess’ An Introduction to the Science of Sociology–the ‘Green Bible’–includes some real interesting gems, including Darwin. We’ll be reading essays of Darwin’s on Blushing and Emotions from there our theory class this semester. It’s nice to think of the very foundation of our discipline in the U.S. is a little more interesting that we think.) Others?
(As a postscript, mention of Kozol’s concerns over language sparked a fabulous discussion about Durkheim, education, and stratification in theory class yesterday. Sharp thoughts that tapped into all sorts of issues of race and power.)