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Free-book tables

An advantage, and disadvantage, of working in higher education is that one regularly stumbles upon tables [1] with signs that say something like Free books [2]. Why is it an advantage? Because you have might find some interesting books that you hope to read some day. Why is it a disadvantage? Because free book tables distract you from whatever you are doing or wherever you are going [3]. And, if you’re someone like me, you end up with many more books than you can ever read.

This morning, as I was heading to English 295, Lighting the Page, I noticed that the Writing Lab had put out a table of free books. Although I only had a few minutes before class, I felt compelled to stop by and look. I was surprised that no students were there, but I expect that it’s been up for a while and they feel that they’ve looked at it already. Or perhaps most students aren’t interested in the books that a Writing Lab is likely to discard.

In the few minutes before class, I found three books that I considered worth taking. At one point in my career, I would have grabbed more; I do teach writing and it’s always interesting to see different approaches to writing. But I already have too many books. I may even have too many books on teaching writing. But I haven’t learned. As I said, I still grabbed three books. Let’s see …

  • A Grammar of Contemporary English by Quirk, Greenbaum, Leech, and Svartik. I think one of my students or colleagues who studies linguistics will appreciate it.
  • What We Really Value: Beyond Rubrics in Teaching and Assessing Writing by Bob Broad. I understand the value of rubrics, particularly in giving students a clear set of goals, but I always find them limiting. So I will find it interesting to see what Broad has to say about it.
  • Composition in the University: Historical and Polemical Essays by Sharon Crowley. I was struck by a comment from John Scilb [4] on the back In part, Sharon Crowley’s book is an incisive history, tracing the social and intellectual forces that have shaped the first-year writing requirement. But Crowley also makes a powerful case against this requirement, even calling for its death. As someone who teaches a first-year writing course [5], I’m interested to see her argument.

I had hoped to see something by Joe Williams or Wayne Booth in the pile [7]. I didn’t. I did find an old copy of Turabian [8,9]. But I don’t really need another copy of Turabian.

I stopped by the table on the way out. For better or worse, I pulled out two other books.

  • The Bedford Book of Genres. This text seems useful; it addresses very different kinds of writing, such as maps, art projects, and more. I do, on occasion, assign these kinds of activities. I hope that I’ll find it a useful resource.
  • amenities: four stories of clifton terrace_ by Molly McArdle ’09. I may have a copy on my shelf. I may not. But it struck me as something I should read, particularly since I note that the legendary Ralph Savarese edited the stories. It’s going on my nightstand.

Five new books in one day. That’s a bit much. But I got rid of one trash can full of junk and one bin of recycling today, so I feel like I did okay overall.

Postscript: I wanted to title this Free book tables. But I think that refers to book tables that are free, rather than tables with free books. English puzzles me [14].

[1] Or bookshelves, or stacks on the floor.

[2] That’s also an advantage, or disadvantage, on living on 57th street in Chicago and passing by the Chicago Powells’ every day on your way to and from class.

[3] When I lived next to Powells’, I tended to allocate an extra five minutes for my morning walk to campus; free book locations are less predictable on campus.

[4] Damn. Did I spell his name right? I don’t have the book in front of me. I"ll cross my fingers.

[5] Okay, it’s more accurate to say that I used to teach a first-year writing course. I have not had the opportunity to teach Tutorial for seven years and won’t for another three. I really miss teaching Tutorial. I’m still not sure what my next Tutorial will focus on. Maybe board games. Maybe comic strips in the digital age. Maybe new forms of narrative. We’ll see [6].

[6] I think that’s literal. If I’m still musing, I will likely muse about the topic of my Tutorial. So you will see. And I’ll see, too.

[7] Well, maybe not; I’d prefer that the Writing Lab keep all of their books by Williams and Booth.

[8] Third edition, I believe. My quick check on Amazon suggests that Turabian is up to the ninth edition.

[9] In one of my detours while musing, I decided to look up when Kate Turabian stepped down as dissertation authority at Chicago [10]. It turns out that it was earlier than I expected. I also learned from the short biography at the University of Chicago press [12] that she never earned a college degree. A Manual for Writers is a useful text; I’m glad that Chicago did not allow her lack of degree to limit the seriousness with which they accorded her expertise.

[10] When I write Chicago here, I mean The University of Chicago. I suppose I could also write UofC, UC [11], or even UChicago. But I tend to refer to it as Chicago.

[11] No, not California.

[12] Am I the only one who is puzzled that (a) that page still refers to the eighth edition and (b) the page seems to end abruptly?

[14] Perhaps I should go back and look for more books.

Version 1.0 of 2018-05-10.