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Blog

The digital bookshelf of an assistant professor

Randall F. Clemens

Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus is one of my favorite plays. At the beginning of the story, Faustus, surrounded by countless dusty tomes, declares that he has read everything about everything. I’m not sure what it says about me (especially given Faustus’ fate), but I frequently think about that scene. I read a lot. I eagerly anticipate new books. When the release date of Patrick Sharkey’s book about neighborhoods and racial equality was delayed, I was disappointed. I like learning, and I worry about having academic blind spots.

I believe reading is critical to the intellectual growth of a professor and his or her ability to influence meaningful change. Below are three books I am either reading or rereading.

The End of Exceptionalism in American Education: The Changing Politics of School Reform, Jeffrey Henig

Henig identifies the three key aspects of education policy in the United States—centralization versus decentralization, public versus private, and single- versus general-purpose governance. He argues that changes from single- to general-purpose governance—although least understood—are critical to the future educational landscape. Examples of single- versus general-purpose are the U.S. Department of Education versus the president, the state department of education versus governors, legislatures, and courts, and school districts versus mayors and councils. Henig provides a thoughtful argument and compelling implications.

Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture, Henry Jenkins, Sam Ford, and Joshua Green

In many ways a sequel to Convergence Culture, Jenkins and colleagues clarify former arguments, challenge increasingly popular theories, and advance new perspectives about networked media. There is a glut of new writing about media that varies widely in terms of scholarly rigor. Start with this book.

Ghostly Matters: Haunting and the Sociological Imagination, Avery Gordon

The book is about ghosts that occupy our present. Gordon writes, “Haunting is a constituent element of modern social life. It is neither premodern superstition nor individual psychosis; it is a generalizable social phenomenon of great import. To study social life one must confront the ghostly aspects of it. This confrontation requires (or produces) a fundamental change in the way we know and make knowledge, in our mode of production.” I first skimmed the book a few years ago. I have thought about it since. Ghostly Matters addresses the complexities (and impossibilities) of accurately portraying the lives of individuals in research. The argument is provocative and memorable. And, the prose is just as haunting as the content.

As a bonus, I am never far from some sort of creative writing, mostly poetry. I try to read a few poems here and there. I recommend Eduardo Corral’s Slow Lightning and Nikky Finney’s Head Off & Split. Both are beautiful, challenging, timely, and rewarding.