Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Bryant Simon

Bryant Simon is a history professor and the director of American Studies at Temple University. His most recent book is Boardwalk of Dreams: Atlantic City and the Fate of Urban America.

Last week I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
I have had a sort of strange and assorted mix of books in my Timbuk2 bag and on my nightstand over the last couple of weeks. I just finished Phoebe Kropp’s California Vieja: Culture and Memory in a Modern American Place. This book starts with a question – where did all those red brick Spanish title dotting the landscape of Southern California come from? Kropp answers this with a close – really close and really imaginative – reading of the buildings, streets, literature, and maps of California from the first half of the last century.

Last week, I started reading about another Californian – actually I took it on the plane on a trip to California to take my kids to Disneyland from Philadelphia. My father had lying around the house, Richard Ben Cramer’s Joe DiMaggio: The Hero’s Life and I grabbed it as I walked out the door. I’m not really huge baseball fan and I am definitely not a Yankee’s fan, but this book is great. Cramer seems to get DiMaggio – his remarkable skill and pressing loneliness – and he also gets the neediness of sports writers and fans for a hero – a true American hero. So this book has been with me on trains, subways, and planes – whenever and wherever I can steal a minute I open it up. I just read Cramer’s wonderful account of DiMaggio’s great hitting streak.

And finally, yesterday, I picked up Sasha Issenberg’s brand new book, The Sushi Economy: Globalization and the Making of a Modern Delicacy. The title says it all. The question for me is whether he can capture the complex flow of culture and products back and forth along the many channels of global commerce. So far, this book is fascinating, if a tad heavy of the bright theme of modernization.
Last year Ben McGrath reported in the The New Yorker that Simon is working on a book about Starbucks -- a cross between Bowling Alone and Fast Food Nation -- which entails a lot of time in many Starbucks outlets. "What we drink has meaning," he explains in an engaging and enlightening video about his research project.

--Marshal Zeringue