Thursday, December 20, 2007

Howard S. Becker

Howard S. Becker lives and works in San Francisco. His latest book is Telling About Society.

I recently asked him what he was reading. His reply:
We're just back from France, where we now spend (since retiring, what a blessing that was!) three months a year. That's one of the things that's affected what I read, as is my tendency to read whatever some friend sends me or suggests I have a look at. So my reading is, if not exactly random, not very directed or orderly. Never has been, since I'm not one for the conventional scholarly review of literature conventionally thought relevant to what I'm working on.

Enough evasion. The book on top of the pile, the one I'm reading right now, is one sent me by an old friend in Brazil, Gilberto Velho, who edited a book of essays by his friends and colleagues called Rio de Janeiro: cultura, polîtica e conflito, which deals, like all such collections, with a mixture of topics: race, class, urban problems, popular music. Rio is the place to study such mixtures and the essays, mostly by anthropologists, keep you up to date on what's happening there.

I'm halfway through another book on cities, Sur les traces de La Bièvre Parisienne: Promenades au fil d'une rivière disparue, by Renaud Gagneux, Jean Anckaert, and Gérard Conte, which traces the path of a river that used to run right through the Parisian Left Bank and empty all the garbage, sewage and industrial waste if had collected into the Seine. It's no longer visible anywhere, having been covered over and diverted into sewers, and buildings erected over it. Its former course runs right under the apartment building we stay in when we're in Paris. So Roberta Shapiro lent me the book, which is filled with old pictures and maps, meticulously showing you what the river looked like when it was still visible and what its course looks like now that it's completely built up.

Another friend, Harvey Molotch, wants to discuss a new book by Bruno Latour, Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network Theory, and so I'm rereading that. Latour is one of the most original thinkers in my field of sociology in a long time and his ideas, though clearly and even amusingly stated, are unconventional enough to confuse people who can't quite believe that he means what he says. I read people like Latour the way my mentor, Everett C. Hughes, recommended I read the great sociologist Georg Simmel, not trying to grasp his "theory," whatever that might be in all its integrity, but just looking for ideas that could be useful. (It's the way I read Wittgenstein, on the rare occasions when I do.) Latour doesn't disappoint, there are plenty of useful ideas on every page.

I read what even I regard as an inordinate number of mysteries. Right now I’m reading Don Winslow's The Winter of Frankie Machine, which I grabbed of the local library shelf because I'd liked his The Death and Life of Bobby Z.

Having just upgraded my Mac to the Leopard version of OSX, I've ordered a book which will explain how to use that.

And then there are the large number of copies of The New Yorker, which piled up while we were gone and contain enough interesting things to keep me busy for a while.
Learn more about Howard S. Becker and his scholarship.

Read about Telling About Society at the University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue