Friday, November 12, 2010

Books on the nightstand

Cam 60Although winter is in the air, I am only just catching up with Cam 60, the summer edition of the University’s alumni magazine.  Big, glossy, and parochial, the quarterly issues are full of news only a ‘Light Blue’ could love, targeted to Cambridge’s wealthy elder audience of potential donors.  “The Best Statue in Cambridge” and “An Idler’s Idyll” (Byron and Punting, respectively) crowd against ads titled “The Vitality of Thought” and “Take choice of all my library” (Judge School Executive Education and the Cambridge University Press, of course).  This is clearly not marketing to the masses.

Why, then are the faculty book recommendations so ordinary?

John Simpson (Magdalene 63; BBC World Affairs Editor) recommends Did You Really Shoot the Television? (an account of youth) and Constable in Love (an artists biography).  Katie Derthem (Magdalene 88, broadcaster) is reading The Devils Casino (Gossip from the women who knew them best), while Robert Gordon (Professor of Hebrew) chooses The Invention of the Jewish People, and Teri Apter (Senior Tutor, Newnham) suggests How the Baby Boomers Took their Children’s Future.

The scholars chose mix of classics in their field and popular general works, for the most part, even considering it was a list for summer reading, it feels light.  Surely I could have chosen better.

I scampered upstairs to test the intuition against my own bedside reading.

I’ll discount the C# Programming manual and the Dutch language tutorials, two business books and a review of postmodern philosophy.  Super Sad True Love Story is my nod to popular fiction. 

I am proud that the stack holds a primer on Optimization Theory, a review of Stochastic Modeling, and a serious work on the History of Western Philosophy (Hobbes to Hume).  Better yet, they aren’t at the bottom of the stack, implying an active interaction between writer and reader each evening.

I hope its not just the order that helps me to sleep.

And, or course, Watching the English, the definitive sociologic guide to British Behaviour.  I wish that the UnDutchables folks had done something this good about the Low Countries.

At least, I’d know when to talk about the weather and when to avoid revealing my profession.

An eclectic and characteristic collection, probably one that mirrors the nightstands of the Cambridge dons.  But choosing just one to recommend, one that people will read, remember, enjoy.  I looked at my stack and sighed.  I really want to recommend Stochastic Modeling, but I know Super Sad would be the right choice for an anonymous mass audience.

And maybe that’s where it all goes wrong?

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