Alan Sica to Edit
Charles Lemert, Wesleyan University
Some among us are fabled for their personal libraries. I know of one who is said to have owned so many books that it was necessary to buttress the foundation of his home to prevent it from crashing under the ever burgeoning weight. This person is widely admired for the work that springs to life from the groaning weight.
Sica is similarly admired at once for his libraries and his works. Anyone who has visited him, as I have in both Pennsylvania and Kansas, will not be in town long before being shown his book collections. I could not begin to estimate their combined weight (as he, in one of his many memorable book reviews, once did of an enormous volume the importance of which fell short of the vanishing point formed at the vector arising from its actual and extreme weight). It is not, however, the heft of Sica’s book holdings but the astonishing way they are held. His books are lined neatly according to a numeric location system of his own making. The shelves have the appearance of being regularly dusted, each book set and reset with loving care. On one occasion I was accompanied on a tour of Sica’s office library by two others who were at Pennsylvania State University, as I was, to address a conference. Without missing a beat, Alan took each of us to those of our books he owned. Up and down the rows he would come to then take in hand one of our books. Ever so gently he would turn to a favorite passage. As if addressing no one in particular he would reveal what he liked or loved about the text. Then without seeking or expecting a response, he returned the treasure to its proper place. The ritual was a perfectly subtle expression of regard—less for the authors than for what they had wrought as it had entered so firmly into his thinking.
Sica is a book person. He writes them. He reviews them. He reads them. But, above all else, he keeps them close to head and heart. This is why he is such an excellent choice to take over as editor of Contemporary Sociology (CS)—the journal that since 1972 has recorded important trends and issues within North American sociology’s book culture. In his application for its editorship, Sica wrote of the journal’s unique value to the field. CS, he said, “has become essential to the task of broadening sociological literacy in ways that the specialty journals cannot—which means that the editor must exercise extraordinary care in managing the journal’s content.” These are words uttered by one who treasures books, perhaps even privileges them, over shorter forms of scholarly writing. But the words are not just words.
Sica is, in my opinion, American Sociology’s most astute historian. At Pennsylvania State, he is the founder and keeper of the most important archive of the private letters and papers of authors whose work in sociology ought to be available to future generations. He is an accomplished scholar whose writings are many in kind and daunting in quality. But, these he is, because first and foremost he is a reader. Alan and his wife Anne, after their children, care for few things in life more than reading—and by reading they together mean fiction and poetry, biography and history, as well as academic nonfiction. It is a game not to be won when, in the expectation of enlightening (even trumping) him, one mentions to Sica a poem by Borges or a shorter piece by Henry James or even some obscure early text in French by Gilles Deleuze. He will have been there first and remembered better.
Contemporary Sociology will be in good and caring hands when Alan Sica joins the now long list of its distinguished editors.