Murder in Ancient China by Robert van Gulik (1910–67), our free e-book for January, helps us launch our latest batch of Chicago Shorts. Part of the Judge Dee mysteries series that orientalist historian and diplomat van Gulik created following a career spent in Allied-occupied Tokyo and Chongqing, China, for the Dutch Foreign Service.
Judge Dee—Confucian Imperial magistrate, inquisitor, and public avenger, based on a famous statesman—was van Gulik’s lasting invention. A welcome addition to the elite canon of fictional detectives, the Judge steps in to investigate homicide, theft, and treason, while attempting to restore order to the golden age of the Tang Dynasty. In Murder in Ancient China’s first story, Judge Dee attempts to solve the mystery of an elderly poet murdered by moonlight in his garden pavilion; in the second, set on the eve of the Chinese New Year, the Judge makes two rare mistakes—to ambiguous results.
Chicago Shorts, published every four to six months, include never-before-published material, off-the-radar reads culled from the University of Chicago Press’s commanding archive, and the best of our newest books, all priced for impulse buying (four titles this season for just $0.99) and presented exclusively in DRM-free e-book format.
To read more about our free ebook of the month program, click here.
To see the full list of titles in the Chicago Shorts series, click here.
“Still longer than a tweet and still shorter than A River Runs Through It—”
WINTER 2014 CHICAGO SHORTS
The University of Chicago Press is pleased to announce the launch of our latest series of Chicago Shorts—distinguished selections, including never-before-published material, off-the-radar reads culled from the University of Chicago Press’s commanding archive, and the best of our newest books, all priced for impulse buying and presented exclusively in DRM-free e-book format.
Aimed at the general reader and running the gamut from the latest in contemporary scholarship to can’t-miss chapters from classic publications, Chicago Shorts continues to turn the page on the twenty-first-century reading experience.
This group of Winter 2014 Shorts are perfect readings to stow away with for an hour or two in the sludge of the season: they cover a range of topics, from the sentience of animals and advice from behavioral economics to the rhetoric of pregnancy; they deliver unforgettable characters like a Confucian magistrate who doubles as a detective and “Blue Babe,” a wooly bison; and to suit this time of year—they deliver some new knowledge to keep you warm.
We call this piece Three Sheilas: in commemoration of Sheila E.’s birthday (and in celebration of how many times I have listened to “Glamorous Life,” between the 43- and 46-minute mark on the elliptical machine). Band members have been substituted with Sheila Bair, former chairwoman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation appointed during the Second George W. Bush Administration, and Sheila Broflovski, South Park mom.
Covering the Body, Barbie Zelizer’s contribution to the literature surrounding the assassination of JFK and its establishment as a cultural hallmark for baby-boomers is unique. For these boomers, coming of age on the cusp of resurgent neoliberalism, our then-burgeoning involvement in Vietnam, the rise of televised mass media, and an engulfment in social protests that attempted (some successfully) to engender change in the struggle for civil, racial, gender, and legal rights, JFK’s assassination was and remains a memento mori for all sorts of abandoned ideals, fraught causes, would-be and could-be scenarios, as well as dark reminder of whispered conspiracies and how acts of violence can distort our desires for meaning in a randomized universe. Anyhow: I teach conspiracy in the context of an art school as a nostalgia-driven meta-narrative and secular form of maximalist knowing, something akin to Wallace Stevens’s sense of a “supreme fiction” mixed with Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s notions of paranoid and reparative readings. Conspiracy theory—the cultural circulation of doubt that surrounds determinate events and indeterminate context—lets us perform a profound and manic kind of grief-work about the systems that fail to position us in knowing and trusting relation to them. With regard to the Kennedy assassination, it’s closer to the German concept of Sehnsucht—a deep attraction to unfilled expectation, unmet desire, the insatiable lust for history as a form of progress, rather than a random series of events generated by our dialectical engagement with the past, which produces the unstable footing of our present. That said, I’ve read a lot of these assassination-themed books, and many that engage with 11/22/63′s relationship to visual and media culture. What Zelizer had to say about how the assassination triggered American TV journalism’s ability to embody and legitimize itself is bang-on; the below excerpts from the book’s opening touch upon that:
The Lord’s Prayer (Peter Pan Records) and Minima Moralia (Theodor Adorno). Image c/o Vinyl Prayers Project
John Lardas Modern (I almost typed “Vardas”—let’s call it an accidental homage to Agnès Varda, who is someone I think about when I think about those weird spaces at the edge of realism, when you fall into pure perspective and some sort of spiritual fizzing or its harsher alternative; anyhow, she was one of five people present at Jim Morrison’s burial, so I am filing my moment of misprision as subliminally relevant) has a really interesting website. In addition to penning Secularism in Antebelllum America and serving as an editor-at-large for the Immanent Frame, Modern is a curator and vinyl collector. Interested, interesting.
His Vinyl Prayers Project, “a virtual mix-tape of vinyl prayer,” allows him to (and for the most part—seamlessly) blend those identities into the persona of a monkishly meditative steward of tracks repressed and unhinged from pop culture that hover in the realm of what he defines as prayer, or, “a weapon, a request to heal the body or boost the brain, an epistemic cry, a meditation, a mediation, a quip, a plea, a means of passive resistance, a wonderful gift from God.” Like for all collectors and most seekers, there is a strange borderland to cross between obsession and devotion, and this is likely the archive you’d desire to listen to again and again if you were to spend the rest of your life, say, chanting that eerily conversational single-line opening from Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama” (“Turn it up.“) as your Vedic mantra; i.e., it’s great.
There is something about vinyl that brings the medium of sound recording to the fore—all the gears and belt drives and chemicals and heat and engineering propositions and amplification strategies. You are not listening to the illusion of presence, but to the presence as it lives—imperfectly, which is to say not wholly present to itself or you—in the world. Materiality, here, does not corrupt some imagined authenticity—you in a small room and the voice or instrument quite literally in your ear as you listen in that small room—but rather a steampunk materiality is the message, a palpable mechanical blur which negates the very possibility of imagining authenticity. Listening, in and to this process, becomes revelatory.
There is an energy to these songs and selections. Even as they are digitally reproduced for you, dear listener. Instructions are included.
For this is what I am calling vinyl prayer—the act of trained listening to vinyl and, specifically, listening to those songs and selections on vinyl that formally and/or affectively implore the listener to move against and beyond, to encounter an otherness that refuses reduction, to somehow, and miraculously, satisfy the desire to be someone or someplace else, at least for a moment.
There’s a lot to take in here—as Modern suggests, at least until you “walk over and nudge the needle.”
Read more about Modern’s Secularism in Antebellum America here.
After this Sunday, October 13, Hyde Park will never be the same. Jack Cella, the general manager of the Seminary Co-op Bookstore for the past 43 years, will retire after helping the store transform from a locally centered cooperative to the nation’s premier scholarly bookstore, with more 50,000 members and three locations. It would be nearly impossible to exaggerate the depth and breadth of Cella’s contribution to the culture of scholarly publishing and to this remarkable institution, and in turn, his value to the Hyde Park community, and especially to the University of Chicago Press.
From our promotions director Levi Stahl:
Being a regular at a bookstore is one of life’s great pleasures. And what you want above all—your reward for being a regular—is good company: you go to the store to talk with the people there, to find out what they’ve been doing and seeing (and of course reading), to hear what they’ve spotted that they think you might like, to catch up on the flood of new books you’d otherwise miss.
What you want is to talk to Jack Cella. It’s almost impossible to leave a conversation with Jack—quiet, understated, serious, friendly Jack—without a new book if not in hand then at least in mind. His awareness is astonishing: he doesn’t just separate the wheat from the chaff, he goes on to parcel it out perfectly to the people he knows will appreciate it most. Retirement suits readers, and no one would begrudge Jack his, but he’ll be greatly missed. Just as there’s no store quite like the Seminary Co-op, there’s no bookseller quite like Jack.
Similarly, its no understatement to quote UCP author Bruce Lincoln, who said of Cella, “He’s built the best bookstore in the U.S. and maybe beyond. He’s a treasure, and his institution is a treasure. I hope it will thrive without him, though it’s hard to imagine it without him.”
Yes, there they were, in the e-mail of October 1 from the Board of the Seminary Co-op: words that I had not expected to see in my lifetime: “Now that the Co-op is settled into its wonderful new space, Jack will be leaving on October 13.”
Jack leaving? When I had expected him to outlive me and pass away at his desk while checking out the information for a special order? Say it isn’t so!
Well, hardcore fans of the Seminary Co-op will have to accept the fact, and even though we know the Co-op will continue in all its eminence in its “wonderful new space,” we know it won’t be the same without Jack.
And of course it could not be— institutions change as personnel change. But it’s hard not to wax sentimental about Jack. Although he would be the first to downplay his own contribution, we also know—not to take away anything from the many others who have contributed to the Co-op’s success—that Jack has been its principal architect. Certainly that success could only be achieved in a community that loves books and shows its love by supporting such a bookstore. But without Jack’s unwavering commitment to making the Co-op one of the world’s best, it wouldn’t have happened.
However, to avoid the sentimental, I want to emphasize something other than Jack’s almost legendary modesty—his steely resolve to get things done despite seemingly insurmountable obstacles. I have some first-hand knowledge of that resolve because I was the manager of 57th St. Books when it opened in 1983 (and for about a dozen years thereafter); I was in on both the planning and working out of the plans for that enterprise, as well as the day-to-day operations that make or break any business.
So Jack was my boss—and in his own quiet way quite a tough cookie. That is, you didn’t want to disappoint him, to not do what he expected. And, of course, since he worked more than anybody else, whining about too much to do wouldn’t go very far, even if sympathy was expressed.
As I reflect on this quality after all these years, it seems to me analogous to the ruthlessness that artists must have about doing their work—you get it done, period. Think about the conclusion of Stephen Sondheim’s great song from Sunday in the Park with George, “Finishing the Hat”:
That however you live, There’s a part of you always standing by, Mapping out the sky, Finishing a hat… Starting on a hat… Finishing a hat… Look I made a hat… Where there never was a hat.
Thank you, Jack, for making the hat that has served not only Hyde Park, but also a community of readers and scholars around the world, so well for so many years. Your will and work made it possible. Our best thanks for your efforts will be to treasure and maintain this remarkable institution, difficult as that will be after you leave.