Strictly by the book

John Macionis doesn't have to venture beyond the spacious parlor in his early nineteenth-century Mount Vernon home to see the mark he has left on higher education. From his overstuffed chair, the Kenyon professor can glance up at a bookshelf stacked with copies of the best-selling sociology textbooks he has written since the mid-1980s.

Front and center is Macionis's breakthrough Sociology, an introductory text first published in 1987 and now in its ninth edition. It is flanked by his four other college textbooks - Seeing Ourselves: Classic, Contemporary, and Cross-Cultural Readings in Sociology, co-edited with Nijole Benokraitis; Society: The Basics; Cities and Urban Life, co-authored with Vincent Parrillo; and Social Problems.

His publisher, Prentice Hall, says his introductory texts, the hardback Sociology and paperback Sociology: The Basics, are the industry's top sellers in their categories. Overall, more than two million Macionis-penned books have been sold. When used book sales are factored into the count, they have reached an estimated five million students. Sociology professors at about one-third of the nation's colleges and universities use the books in their classrooms.

Those are big numbers, and Macionis's pride in citing them is understandable. But all the publishing success-and the financial rewards that go with it-have not diminished his love of teaching and connecting with Kenyon students. As a professor of sociology and the Prentice Hall Distinguished Scholar, he still leads an introductory sociology class as well as several others in the discipline.

"I think about textbooks when I'm teaching and about teaching when I'm writing books," says Macionis. "The two things go hand in hand. A passion for teaching underlies everything I do. You have to be able to think from the students' point of view. You have to ask the question, 'Does this have something to say to undergraduates?'"

He also shares some of the diverse student feedback he receives on his textbooks-Canadian, Spanish, Hebrew, and Asian editions have been published-with his Kenyon classes.

Such a global examination of sociology is a trademark of Macionis's scholarship, says Associate Provost Howard Sacks, a Kenyon professor of sociology who has known Macionis since the latter's arrival at the College in 1978.

"Through his textbooks," says Sacks, "John has done much to provide leadership in educating the next generation of sociology teachers and scholars. He has been an innovator in several respects. He emphasized cross-cultural analysis from the start, bringing a global perspective to sociology well before many of his peers."

Such trail-blazing efforts contributed to Macionis's receiving the Distinguished Contributions to Teaching Award from the American Sociological Association earlier this year. It was the first time an educator received the prestigious national award primarily for textbook writing.

Sacks says Macionis has also been ahead of the curve in recognizing the important interface between rural and urban societies. That may stem in part from a period when Macionis was known as an expert on "white trash," the much-maligned class of people called "rednecks," "hillbillies," "hoop jacks," and other equally unflattering names.

But he has never been one to latch on to a particular subject and make it the sole area of his scholarship. At any given time, Macionis has immersed himself in urban studies, global education, social class, deviance and criminology, community ties in modern society, and even humor-why something is perceived as funny.

So what separates Macionis's textbooks from the pack?

"John has a wonderful narrative style that engages students and professors alike," says Nancy Roberts, his publisher at Prentice Hall. "Just start reading one of his chapter-opening vignettes or boxes, and you'll soon find you've been completely drawn into the chapter."

Macionis has high praise for the editing and publishing team at Prentice Hall. However, he saves the highest accolades for his wife, Amy, a textbook-industry veteran who serves as editor on his books and the revised editions that follow.

"I've read some of the texts at least twice a year for the past ten years," she says, "so I know them inside and out. My strengths are details and being able to spot inaccuracies."

The couple finds their textbook work monumentally time-consuming, especially when mixed in with the responsibilities of raising their two young children. However, things slow down a bit in the summer, much of which the family spends at Lake George in upstate New York. They also entertain guests, most with Kenyon connections, in a bed-and-breakfast area they added a few years ago to their historic farmhouse.

The trips to Lake George provide Macionis with an opportunity to become engaged in his latest hobby, racing his Thistle-class sailboat. His hobbies are like his scholarly interests-varied. He is an avid photographer, likes to bang out "oldie" rock'n'roll tunes on his electric guitar, is learning to play the bagpipes, and, living a boyhood dream, occasionally drives his 1956 International fire truck in local parades.

"I saw a newspaper ad that a fire department in the Cincinnati area wanted to sell a fire truck," he recalls. "I paid fifteen cents a pound for it - cheaper than white bread."

Sounds like a textbook case of a satisfied sociologist.

Jeff Bell is a writer who lives in Bexley, Ohio, and a former Kenyon news director.

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