The first meetings of the semester's classes have passed, a biennial agony that I grow to dread more & more each year. I'm not a comfortable public speaker; so, painfully self-conscious, I overcompensate with wisecracks & gimcracks & bales & acres of rambling verbiage. (I grow to loathe the twanging of my own voice more every year...)
John Latta continues to assiduously read/blog his way thru The Poem of a Life; I'm too blushingly pleased by the care with which he ponders the book, & pursues its byways, to link him just now. (You can find him on the blogroll, if so interested.)
I took the plunge into full-fledged prostitution last night in my Biography: Theory & Practice seminar. I had left a hole in the syllabus for a "Contemporary Biography To Be Determined," & offered up three biographies for them to choose among. Voting was closely divided, but broke 6 to 5 in favor of reading The Poem of a Life rather than Lyndall Gordon's Virginia Woolf: A Writer's Life (with one outrider – a Ron Paulist? – casting her/his vote for Stephen Greenblatt's Will in the World). Mixed feelings on my side: of course, a bit of satisfied amour-propre, but also regret – my LZ book really isn't a patch on Gordon's luminous Woolf, & I'm not sure whatever 1st-hand author's tales I can tell abt. writing TPL will be as pedagogically useful as dissecting the weird turns of Greenblatt's Shax.
But mainly: I've never assigned a book of my own in a class before, & am none too comfortable doing so now. Perhaps I've heard far too many horror stories of the management & education professors who've supplemented their own incomes by assigning their own lame textbooks to their massive lecture courses. Or perhaps it's personal experience. In my undergrad days, I recall only a handful of philosophy courses that used professor-authored texts – & entirely appropriately. But when I came to The Campus on the Hill for doctoral studies, it seemed one couldn't swing a cat without knocking down a faculty member scurrying to the bookstore with a book order for his/her own book.
Okay when the class was a Theory seminar, & Jonathan Culler was assigning his own On Deconstruction; it no doubt saved us all a lot of note-taking. But other instances were less helpful: one seminar in particular, involving the grandest of modernist monumental texts, also subjected us to perhaps the least useful, most tediously-written commentary on Ulysses ever published – not coincidentally written by the professor. (Its only selling point was that it was the first book published whose references were keyed to the new [at the time] Gabler edition. Hooray.)
So call me a whore. At least, when Our Fair University's ethics committee comes knocking on my office door, I can explain that my "profits" – royalties – from the half-dozen or so copies of the book this will sell (half the class seems to have it already, mirabile dictu) will fall rather short of buying the class a round of drinks – which I'll do anyway. Call me a $10 whore.
I'd be interested in hearing from those academics among Culture Industry's six readers as to their own experiences – positive or otherwise – with professor-authored course texts.