Paul L. Caron
Dean




Sunday, September 28, 2014

Cass Sunstein's Ode to the Independent Bookstore: 'Church, House of Worship, Sacred Place'

Seminary

Chicago Tribune:  A Treasure-Trove Beyond Words, by Cass Sunstein (Harvard):

I joined the faculty of the University of Chicago Law School in 1981. On the day after I moved to Hyde Park, a young English professor told me, in hushed tones, "The best thing about the University of Chicago is the Sem Co-op." He added, as if he were discussing a legendary priest, or a world leader, or perhaps a spy, "It's run by Jack Cella."

Of course I had no idea what a "Sem Co-op" might be, and I had never heard of Jack Cella — and I was properly intimidated by both. A week later, I discovered the Seminary Co-op Bookstore, and I was able to see, at his small desk on the right as you enter the store, the famous Jack Cella.

Hyde Park's Seminary Co-op Bookstore is not merely a bookstore. It is a community. It is a small town. It is a church, a sacred place. The air is cleaner there, and the people are more gracious, and they move more slowly. It is defined by quiet, and by gentleness, and by respect. No one disturbs anyone there. When they talk, they tend to whisper.

A confession: During my first years at the University of Chicago, I was a bit frightened whenever I entered the Seminary Co-op. I met Jack, or sort of met Jack, but I didn't know if he knew my name. When I saw him, I felt painfully shy. You could find the university's legendary professors there — the people who wrote the books that made it onto the celebrated Front Table (more on that in a minute). Wayne Booth might be there, or Marshall Sahlins, or Wendy Doniger, or David Tracy, or William Julius Wilson, or Gary Becker. (Would one say, "hello, Professor Becker"? "Hi there, Gary?" Nothing at all?)

The Seminary Co-op was a magnet. It was analogous to a great city as memorably described by Jane Jacobs: It was full of life-altering surprises, and unknown treasures, and whenever you turned a corner, you never knew what you would see. ...

The Seminary Co-op was, and is, a place of refuge, a port in a storm. Whenever I have been away from Chicago for a period, it is among my first destinations, and the one I look forward to most. What is now on the Front Table? What surprises might one find?

And whenever I faced some kind of difficulty or setback at the University of Chicago — a stressful day, a difficult month, a small problem or a large one — it was my destination of choice. More than any place I have ever been, it settles and quiets the mind. ...

It's the very model of the bookstore, and in its quiet way, it's also a house of worship.

https://taxprof.typepad.com/taxprof_blog/2014/09/cass-sunsteins-.html

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