Wednesday, July 06, 2005


I Meme, You Meme, We All Meme for Nice Memes

I'm back from a much-needed and relaxing vacation, and I'm now in the process of getting back in the saddle. Most of this afternoon was taken up with clearing my desk of a project I finished just before leaving--culling through library books to see which ones can be returned, filing notes and articles, etc.--and laying out my plans for the rest of the summer. I learned just before leaving that I'll be adjunct-ing for a course this fall; it was exciting news, but it makes it even more necessary (if that's possible) for me to be productive on the dissertation in the next two months.

On the same day I left, Scott McLeme(m)e graciously invited me to meme. I was also tapped to do The Book Meme a couple of weeks ago by Paul Musgrave and Jason at Gower Street. So, as Scott says, "Let's meme."

Here are Scott's questions:

(1) Imagine it’s 2015. You are visiting the library at a major research university. You go over to a computer terminal (or whatever it is they use in 2015) that gives you immediate access to any book or journal article on any topic you want. What do you look up? In other words, what do you hope somebody will have written in the meantime?

Wow. Scott plays hardball on the opening pitch. I found this to be the most difficult question of all, but I'm going to say that I look forward to a second novel from Edward Jones, author of the Pulitzer-prize winning The Known World.

(2) What is the strangest thing you’ve ever heard or seen at a conference? No names, please. Refer to "Professor X" or "Ms. Y" if you must. Double credit if you were directly affected. Triple if you then said or did something equally weird.

The setting is Memphis. Graceland. The scene opens on the annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians. The occasion: the awards ceremony and presidential address. The ceremony begins with a performance by the recent winner of something called History Day, on which junior high school students compete by giving dramatic interpretations of historical events. The winner is a young woman who performs a monologue as Joan of Arc. Well, sort of a monologue. A piped-in tape provides the voices of Joan's inquisitors, while Joan stands on the stage in front of a couple hundred Americanist historians and engages in a teary dialogue with the disembodied recording. After Joan is sentenced to die, the presidential address begins. (The performance itself was not bad, just incongruous. This may be one of those "you had to be there" things, but I definitely think I remember it qualifying as "strange." Maybe you were present and can back me up on this.)

(3) Name a writer, scholar, or otherwise worthy person you admire so much that meeting him or her would probably reduce you to awestruck silence.

This has happened to me before. Herbie Hancock. I saw him on the same tour that produced Live at Massey Hall, and afterwards, he and Michael Brecker unexpectedly announced that they would sign autographs in the lobby of the concert hall. I raced back to my car, found the only jazz CD on board (a compilation that luckily had a Herbie tune), and then raced back to wait in line, only to then be dumbfounded when I got to the front. All I remember is Herbie asking for my name, commenting that "Caleb is a very old name," and myself saying, slackjawed, "Uhhhhhh." The signed CD ("To Caleb. Herbie Hancock.") is now framed and within sight of my desk.

As for scholars, probably Charles Taylor. But from his writings I imagine him as the kind of person who would be disarming instead of intentionally intimidating.

(4) What are two or three blogs or other Web sites you often read that don’t seem to be on many people’s radar?

I hope that my answers won't seem like backhanded compliments; I don't trust my own radar enough to know who's flying under the radars of others. But I really like Evan Roberts' Coffee Grounds, the group blog Horizon and its spin-off MRBFK. (Bobby Farouk's MRBFK is like Frasier to Horizon's Cheers.)

Jason Kuznicki, Julie Meloni, and Paul Musgrave were among my blog's first friends, and although they all have many readers, they all deserve many more.

Since this is a place where I can make a plug, I'll also mention Carlos Stouffer's Jesus Politics, even though I know it's already on many people's radars. Carlos compiles invaluable links to stories on religion and politics in America, and what I admire about his blog is how he manages to bring together representative links from both the Religious Right and (for want of a better term) the Religious Non-Religious-Right. If you read Jesus Politics long enough, it becomes clear that Carlos identifies more with the latter than with the former. But he is able to be a discriminating linker without being transparently judgemental, which makes Jesus Politics one of those rare places in cyberspace where the readership is extremely ideologically diverse. In the comments, Carlos engages his readers with a graciousness and compassion that is eminently worthy of emulation.

I'd like to pass Scott's meme to Ralph Luker, another one of my first blog friends, Scrivener, and Jo(e), even though she's just done another meme.

And here's the fabled Book Meme, in its Musgravian iteration:

1. Number of books I own. Somewhere between 500 and 600.

2. Last book(s) I bought. A new Borders just opened near our apartment, and my wife and I recently took advantage of a "Buy 2, Get 1" free table to purchase Ian McEwan's Atonement, Myla Goldberg's Bee Season, and Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita.

3. Last book I read. Sarah Vowell's Assassination Vacation. Currently reading David Reynolds' John Brown, Abolitionist and Dorothy Day's The Long Loneliness, along with sundry books for the dissertation.

4. Books that mean a lot to me. Or, a very partial list of books I'm partial to. This is a hard question to answer because it's hard to say what "mean" means. Some of the books below mean something to me because they are still lodged deep in my self or because they animate my current interests; others are farther than they once were from my core beliefs or tastes, but they meant a lot when I read them first, so they still mean something now. Others seem to me like models for the kind of book I hope to one day be able to write. Still others are on the list mainly because of some association in my mind with a meaningful time or place or person, all of which are hard for me to separate from the experience of reading a book. In one way or another, they all left a mark.

Carl Becker, The Heavenly City of the Eighteenth-Century Philosophers
Walter Brueggemann, The Land
William Cronon, Nature's Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West
David Brion Davis, Slavery and Human Progress
Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov
W. E. B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk
Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose
Clifford Geertz, The Interpretation of Cultures
Graham Greene, The Power and the Glory
Winthrop Jordan, White Over Black: American Attitudes Toward the Negro, 1550-1812
John Kasson, Amusing the Million: Coney Island at the Turn of the Century
Helen Keller, The Story of My Life
Thomas a Kempis, The Imitation of Christ
Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
Edmund Morgan, The Puritan Dilemma
Walker Percy, The Moviegoer
David Remnick, Lenin's Tomb
Marilynne Robinson, Gilead
Daniel T. Rodgers, Atlantic Crossings: Social Politics in a Progressive Age
Virgil, The Aeneid
Robert Penn Warren, All the King's Men
Garry Wills, Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words that Remade America
John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus

I could keep going ... or not.

If you haven't been tagged, feel free to join in the general meme-ing (Scott McLemee suggests that "meme" can be a verb, but if so it's hard to figure out how to spell the gerund form).

Collective Improvisation:
Um. Yes. The Joan of Arc presentation was to me, not just weird, but a little uncomfortable. I found myself wishing for my childhood stuffed animal. Perhaps this was the intention? Regardless, it made me think twice about having my own students participate in the History Day activities. 

Posted by Abigail

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous on 7/06/2005 10:52:00 PM : Permalink  

caleb, you're way too nice!

The Known World  has been sitting on my coffeetable, ready for reading, for far too long. I'm taking it with me on a plane in a few weeks, and I can't wait! I've heard such wonderful things about it. 

Posted by JM

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous on 7/07/2005 10:33:00 AM : Permalink  

Caleb, Thanks for the shout out. I've seen a bit of a boost in visitors already!


Posted by Evan

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous on 7/07/2005 08:07:00 PM : Permalink  

Oh, you tagged me with a hard one. Um, I'll have to think about it a bit. I've been eager to start The Known World  for a while too--got it as an Xmas present from spouse--but just haven't managed to do so. 

Posted by Scrivener

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous on 7/07/2005 08:42:00 PM : Permalink  

I think The Known World  is exceptional historical fiction; I'll be interested to hear what you guys think once you've read it. I've also read a couple of short stories by Jones that I thought were wonderful, and I'm looking forward to more. He has a couple of short story collections that I need to check out.

Thanks for backing me up on the strangeness of the History Day performance, Abigail. 

Posted by Caleb

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous on 7/07/2005 10:57:00 PM : Permalink  

Finally put up my response . 

Posted by Scrivener

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous on 7/15/2005 03:58:00 PM : Permalink  

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