The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (1959), by Erving Goffman (1922-1982). When I read this book, I realized for the first time I was at heart a symbolic interactionist, a central sociological theory. Goffman uses metaphors and images of a performance with backstage and front stage interactions. It made me understand better our society as a stage on which we performed our roles, shaped our identities, and managed our sense of self. We are all performers, especially as professors in front of our audience of students and scholars.
Inequality: A Reassessment of the Effect of Family and Schooling (1972), by Christopher Jencks (1936-). My original area of study was the sociology of education and this book was published when I was in graduate school. It clearly shaped the way I thought about schooling in America and my chosen field of study. And, as importantly, I used it as a basis for the talk I gave as a candidate for my position at Pitzer, since it ably demonstrates quantitative thinking and theoretical sophistication about an important social and economic issue. So, it also contributed to my becoming a professor at Pitzer!
Tearoom Trade: Impersonal Sex in Public Places (1970), by Laud Humphreys (1930-1988). In the early 1970’s, this book had a notorious reputation. In fact, at the University of Pennsylvania where I received my PhD, it was not in the open stacks and had to be specially requested. It remains one of the first important books on same-sex sexuality and demonstrates how the culture repressed and forced people into dangerous and deceptive situations. Imagine my surprise when I learned that Laud was a professor at Pitzer and would become a mentor in my development in the area of gay studies.