March of the books

A bagpipe parade of writers and bibliophiles ends at the Seminary Co-op’s new store.

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After 51 years in its beloved subterranean location, where no natural light shone and the heat could never be turned off, the Seminary Co-op Bookstore is moving to its new space, a block away at 5751 S. Woodlawn Avenue. And since solemn occasions at UChicago are traditionally commemorated with a note of ridiculousness—or rather, a drone of ridiculousness—the move required a bagpipe parade.

It’s 11 a.m. on Monday, November 19, and a crowd of about 75 people has gathered at the construction site that is now the former Seminary Co-op. The crowd is quite distinguished—looking, there’s John Boyer, AM'69, PhD'75, dean of the College, in his trademark flat cap, chatting with English professor Kenneth Warren next to a table piled with books. On closer inspection, all of the books have been written by UChicago faculty. The idea, I gather quite late, is that faculty members have been invited to move one symbolic copy of one book to the new store; any remaining books on the table can be carried over by the hoi polloi.

Somewhere behind the plastic-wrapped chain-link fence, the bagpipes begin to drone—just one set of pipes, played by one bearded young man, rather than the band that traditionally plays at orientation and convocation. Perhaps there’s a standard conversion formula that allows parade organizers to determine how many pipers are needed, based on expected crowd size.

We make our way through the construction site, carrying books or not, but feeling generally bibliophilic. At Woodlawn and 57th, a few people shout, “Hooray! Books!” At the corner of University, the new store in sight, someone calls, “Two, four, six, eight, who do we appreciate?” and the crowd responds weakly, “Books!”

At the store, the name of each faculty author and the title of his or her book is read out loud. Each author steps forward in a wave of applause, then walks inside and places the book on the front display table.

“Jonathan Lear, A Case for Irony.” Polite applause.

“Ken Warren, What Was African American Literature?” More polite applause.

“John Boyer, Karl Lueger.” Louder applause. “I love you, Dean Boyer!” shouts a bespectacled young man. “You’re my hero!”

“Theo van den Hout, The Elements of Hittite.” The crowd goes wild. “Hittite!” someone yells. “Yeah!”

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