• Confessions of a Community College Dean

    In which a veteran of cultural studies seminars in the 1990s moves into academic administration and finds himself a married suburban father of two. Foucault, plus lawn care.


Books as Decoration

Which books to display ....

May 23, 2016

We picked up some used bookcases this weekend, through the miracle of craigslist, and put them in the family room.

Nature abhors a vacuum, so the bookcases had to be populated.

As a former grad student and longtime academic, I own more books than is probably healthy. The pace of accumulation has tapered off over the last few years, but in addition to the bookcase in the living room, there are three full ones in the basement, along with about twenty “bankers’ boxes” of books. My job was to dig through those boxes looking for books that are display-worthy, keeping in mind grandparents, neighbors, and kids’ friends.

It’s more fraught than it sounds.

Some calls are easy enough. The Wife is a dedicated fiction reader with good taste, so her stuff tends to make it. As a non-academic, she missed the whole critical theory/postmodernism thing entirely. That’s mostly good, but it leads to a different sense of book titles. She specifically requested “no embarrassing books.”

Reader, I was offended.

Embarrassing? Embarrassing? Moi? There shall be no room in this house for such rank philistinism!  

And then I started unpacking the boxes.

The Marx/Engels Reader? Hmm. Hey, neighbors...

Hard Core: Power, Pleasure, and the Frenzy of the Visible? Don’t really want to give a synopsis of that one. I can just imagine:

TW: What’s this about?

Me: Visual expressions of female sexuality, especially on film. I remember an extended metaphor about musicals and porn movies.

TW: (glaring)

Me: Well, it doesn’t come with clips. You don’t even want to know her analysis of “Singin’ in the Rain”...


Sexual/Textual Politics?  Nooo…

History of Sexuality, Part One?  Admittedly, the “Part One” element smacks of comic genius, but The Boy’s friends might have too much fun with that one.

More Sex is Safer Sex? It’s about behavioral economics, but the title is a nonstarter.

The Phenomenology of Spirit? Somehow, “Phenomenology” doesn’t scream “welcome, neighbor!” I kept Minima Moralia downstairs for the same reason.  

Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks?  Um…

Commodify Your Dissent? Perhaps not.

I don’t remember Walter Benjamin dealing with these issues.

I didn’t scrub everything. Discipline and Punish made the cut -- Foucault, plus lawn care -- as did plenty of substantive stuff with less eyebrow-raising titles. Still, remembering what was considered normal in grad school was a bit bracing.

Wise and worldly readers, do you have serious books you feel obligated to protect civilians from?


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