Tuesday, 4 April 2006

Failure?

It must be said: I find these notices, pinned to the noticeboard in the corridors and stairwells, a bit of a downer.







It wasn't that long ago I was very poor, and routinely sold possessions for food money. I only sold books a few times, though: the books I really hated ran out fast, and rates of return just weren't high enough to make it worth selling books I might want to read again. I did better selling clothes and shoes and CDs. These notices remind me of the pinching worry of those days.

Yet from another angle, one having nothing to do with whether the money is actually needed or not, I confess I'm a bit miffed that the vendors have no interest in hanging onto these books. Notices offering "mint condition" copies of classic novels for $5 particularly get me going, since they seem to suggest a) the spine was never cracked and b) the owner rates the worth of the book at less than five dollars plus the assorted hassle of arranging the sale and the handover, ie next to nothing. That's where I think "oh well, we failed": we couldn't present these wonderful amazing books with even that minimal level of attractiveness. (I should point out that at least one of these vendors has been taught by me, so it's a personal failure I'm feeling the sting of, as much as a departmental one.) Lots of students take English without being at all committed to it, but even so: surely a piece of imaginative literature is owed more commitment than an accounting textbook or something like that?

And from another perspective again, I'm a little bit suspicious of my own feelings of rejection when I see these notices. What's my investment? Why do I assume that indifference to book ownership must also be indifference to the experience of reading that book? They don't go hand in hand. I know that. And anyway, it's entirely possible that the profits from book sales get ploughed straight back into new book purchases. There's no rule that says once you read a book you have to go on reading it for the rest of your life. Maybe the thing that's failing is my imagination.

Still. I was cheered up by the poster advertising Possession ($15), upon which somebody had written "I'll Byatt."

19 comments:

Ampersand Duck said...

The typos aren't very encouraging either...

kate said...

I never understood why people sold English texts either, as you say, the return is pretty small for the effort and there's always a chance you'll want to read them again. Some of the sellers ('mint condition') don't belong in an English course, and perhaps aren't ready for uni at all.

Others are people like my old housemate - people who are dedicated library-goers, keen English students, who just aren't attached to owning the books. They are interested in the content, but not the object of the book. She was doing honours in English, and always had a book on the go, and had roughly 50 books to her name.

Rob said...

I've never sold a book. Lost many of them over the years, usually to people who borrowed and forgot to return. Given a few away too. I forgive the forgetting. If someone, as I hope, got something out of that book I can easily replace good luck to them.

Continuing the Fahrenheit 451 theme from a few days ago, the hardest part of the movie to watch is the scene where the books are burned. And the best part is the end; I am Pride, and I am Prejudice. I am The Pickwick Papers. Ok, I'm running on memory now :-)

random said...

I'd be thinking: hot damn! I don't have a copy of "The Sound and the Fury"! :)

I wonder if it isn't healthier to get rid of them: I mean, I can count on the fingers of one hand the number I'm actually going to read again. Well, definitely [probably] less than twenty hands. Excluding refernce books. But some of the books I'm keeping won't ever get read at all, if I'm being honest -- I'd like to be the sort of person who's read Finnegans Wake more than I'd actually read it. And then there are the ones which probably should be gotten rid of, because it's a deep and abiding shame that I've read most of the Harry Potter books twice but haven't ever gotten around to Hamlet...

FXH said...

Never sold a book. But I did once buy back one of my own from a person who was having a garage sale. I paid for it before I looked inside and saw my name and address and realised I'd lent it to them 15 years previous.

Anonymous said...

"Hardly NO highlights underlines and scribbles"?
To what extents of civilisation are we coming, and to how much decadence can we extend? Such people should have their book ownership privileges summarily executed by firing squad. Crack!
...
I've never sold a book. I borrow them rather than buy them, and depend on non-scribbled library copies.

elaine said...

I'm very possessive with books. I can't bear to let them go. Perhaps it's the very sensate, tactile pleasure that I get from handling them and the way the feel of a book changes as you read.

An ex of mine used to bend the spines right over and it drove me crazy.

Tutor said...

What a lovely and evocative post. You could add to a collection, "The Occassional Essay in the Age of Blogging: The New Rambler."

elsewhere said...

I really regret selling some of the stuff I did now that I'm teaching again (particularly anthologies). It's amazing what one did out of desparation as a student. I was always in two minds about doing this...

Val said...

Must admit I'm like the people Kate describes : I'm interested in having read the book and been affected by it in one way or other, but not terribly interested in ownership. And like Random said,how many books ARE you going to read again in a lifetime? I'm still trying to cope with my ever growing list of books to read.

To put things in perspective, give a thought to students of languages other than English (not allowed to call them foreign languages, of course): many of these students expect to get by without having bought the text, workbooks, and a decent dictionary, for crying out loud! THAT is when I seriously doubt commitment to learning the subject at hand. You've all had a go at learning another language, think about trying to do that without owning those books. Yes, I've come across that repeatedly in my job.

I would not take these notices to heart, dear Lucy. There can be all sorts of reasons behind them, some of which you yourself have pointed out.

Ray Davis said...

I prefer to keep books that I know I'll re-read, but when you don't have much money or storage space and you need to move in a hurry, you sometimes just have to gamble on being able to find the book again when you need it. Some are born Snufkin, and some have Snufkindom thrust upon them.

Lucy Tartan said...

If I went around pulling down all the notices I didn't like, perhaps I might one day achieve Snufkinvana.

Mel said...

We had a story about books as status objects in Issue 5 of Is Not Magazine. I could email it to you if you are at all interested.

Lucy Tartan said...

Yes, I'd like to read that, though I feel guilty for not having read it already. But you know I hardly ever leave Zone 2. Sillsbend/gmail.com

I've clearly got some kind of obsessive fixation about book-owning. It's emB@RrAssINg!

Amanda said...

On the upside I also see heaps of notices around campus for finance/business/accounting textbooks which are also in mint condition.

I got rid of a heap of books when I went overseas just because I couldnt store them, left hundreds of them on the side of the road in Enmore and they all disappeared. I sold a few textbooks in uni because I needed the money but never novels or anything like that.

R H said...

You dumped books in the road?

Why not just set fire to them? There's not much difference.
In disrespect.

I hope you never own a dog.

Ampersand Duck said...

I've had the same experience as fxh. It's a moment of utter disillusionment.

Krava said...

Reading this post I had to look to my right and count the books on my library. Seventy novels, 2.6 books per year of life, "that is disturbing" I thought. Then it struck me: I don't own none of the mandatory books from literature classes. In fact there is hardly any book from french or portuguese literature (never studied english).

I quite inderstand those people that sell a book at ANY price. Reading a book for school is like having sex for money. If you prostitute you take a shower, if you read a book in school you throw it away or sell it. I read books because I want to, all the mandatory readings were bad experiences that i gladly erased from my life.

I guess this view of mine can be very disturbing to the english teachers reading this, as much as the bad english, But think about it: how many institutionalized ways of pleasure do you know?

R H said...

Amanda. Take no notice. I've done worse.

R.H.