A few thoughts on books from the last week. First, a colleague stopped me in the cafe to let me know about an Chronicle of Higher Education article on Google’s Book Search being a ‘disaster’ for academics because its data is often incorrect. Yikes. Second, this week one of my new colleagues, Jay Demerath, invited faculty to come into his office to pick out any books that he or she wanted. A generous and dangerous offer with a warning: “You all may be in the last generation to experience the problem of dealing with books upon your retirement.” The visit made me really contemplate teaching, careers, and my ever-growing library. He said that the grad students just didn’t know what classic books are anymore (undoubtedly a frequent lament). Despite the warning of an unwieldy library at the end of a career, I picked up Halle’s Inside Culture, Sacks’ massive Conversation Analysis lectures, and Jeffrey Alexander’s four volume set Theoretical Logic in Sociology, among other things. Third, friends and I descended upon the League of Women Voters Book Sale this morning as if I had not picked up enough books at Jay’s office. I nabbed a few goodies (Hodgeman’s More Information Than You Require, Schott’s Miscellany, Zadie Smith’s On Beauty, and Mannheim’s Ideology and Utopia), but was amazed at the piles of great books that book resellers had squirreled away in the corners of the High School cafeteria. Upon asking one of the volunteers, I was told that they pay a $10 fee to come in early and, essentially, scrape the cream off for themselves, searching prices on their iPhones and then taking their time to toss back the small fish. I had mixed feelings about it, but the ladies I spoke insisted that they make a ton of money off of these folks. There’s a thread in here somewhere… in lieu of a summary, a link to Benjamin’s essay on book collecting.
This has to be the fifth post out of the 120 posts that is on David Byrne, which is overkill, but I’m very excited to get The Bicycle Diaries in the mail. Am I wrong to hope that it is like a Walter Benjaminesque mediation on cities, as he bikes through NYC, London, Buenos Aries, Istanbul, Berlin and beyond? Am I wrong to hope that it could be a companion piece to Alfred Kazin’s A Walker in the City? Perhaps I will use it in Urban Sociology soon…
Our values and hopes are sometimes awfully embarrassingly easy to read. They’re right there – in the storefronts, museums, temples, shops, and office buildings and in how these structures interrelate, or sometimes don’t… Riding a bike through all this is like navigating the collective neural pathways of some vast global mind.
The battle between people-turned-symbols of Jane Jacobs and Robert Moses is well-worn and yet evergreen. As much as I like using Simmel and Benjamin and Haussman, a new book by Anthony Flint, Wrestling with Moses: How Jane Jacobs Took on New York’s Master Builder and Transformed the American City revisits the more contemporary exchange. A nice review is here.