Alcove No. 1 in the City College Lunchroom

Tony Grafton in TNR:

Morning, nowadays, means coffee and the Times,
as it did for my parents. But it also means something they never
experienced: a trip across the Web. Slipping from link to link,
occasionally falling in and spending a few minutes in one place, I pass
from TNR to NYRB to Bookforum, from Atrios to Steve Benen, from Easily Distracted to University Diaries to Tenured Radical to TigerHawk, from Historiann and Arts & Letters Daily to Cliopatria and Athens & Jerusalem, from Andrew Sullivan to Megan McArdle to Ta-Nehisi Coates—and, for perspective, to the obituaries in the Telegraph.

Two very different pots of gold wait at the end of the rainbow. The
main posts in these blogs, for all their differences, are sharp and
often full of information, and they swarm with links to further blogs
and reviews. At many sites, moreover, communities of commentators have
taken shape. Scroll down from a post into the comment thread, and you
find yourself in a virtual counterpart to Alcove No. 1 in the City
College lunchroom, as it was many years ago—a place that buzzes with
everything from critical intellects at play to bug-eyed ideologues who
pout and shout. Running conversations, polyphonic and sometimes
polymathic, enlarge on or contend with the main post. In the academic
blogs that I like best, these illuminate the strange world in which I

Grafton and I have exactly the same blog reading habits. However, for some reason, I was out of the loop on A Don's LIfe. How did my husband the historian not know about this one? Well, that problem has been rectified in Google Reader.

Grafton makes the great comparison between the smart blog world and Alcove No. 1 in the City College lunchroom. My dad started teaching at City College in the mid-1960s, back when he had to furiously study before class to be prepared for hyper-intellectual students. I forwarded this link to him, because he isn't allowed to read this blog.

In general, bloggers have turned into very bad book writers. They have not been able to translate their power to book form. However, Grafton writes that Mary Beard has succeeded where others have failed.

Blogs move quickly, and sometimes shut down just as quickly. Even the Wayback Machine
does not provide easy access to all of the blogosphere’s past riches.
That is one reason why it is wonderful to have a selection from A Don’s Life
in book form: we aging Luddites like to reread things we enjoyed, and
blogs can be hard to track back (especially if you’re reading in bed).
Another is the perspective that the book form gives. Blogs strew the
electronic landscape like autumn leaves in Vallombrosa. But A Don’s Life
has special qualities that set it—and other blogs like it—apart from
the mass, and this anthology helps to make them visible in a new way.

Grafton points to great blogs from the past that have shut down shop and cites the Invisible Adjunct as an example. [Someone is getting a nudge, right now.]

There are some fabulous conversations happening the blogosphere. It's good to see that people are paying attention.

4 thoughts on “Alcove No. 1 in the City College Lunchroom

  1. “In general, bloggers have turned into very bad book writers.”
    Sonneteers were notoriously iffy in the whole epic business. And who can remember the stars of the Elizabethan three-act writers?
    More mundanely, the one Neal Stephenson short story I know of is terrible.


  2. Do you actually *know* the Invisible Adjunct? That was the first blog I read, back in grad school (I’m five years out now) and she seems like a mysterious mythical creature to me.
    It’s true: the concept of “news” is totally different now. I spend as much time on blogs as I spend on the Times or even on more “fun” news sites like Slate and Salon.


  3. Invisible Adjunct (Mary, right? It’s been a long time) is still out there, and mysteriously pops up occasionally. I remember infrequently seeing her name appear in comments threads at Unfogged, but it’s been a while.


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