The Lit Maven

Posts Tagged ‘Books

Everybody loves a pristine textbook – the fresh, straight-off-the-printing-press smell, the pages that are so sharp you are in danger of slicing into a finger while studying for that early morning exam, the pictures devoid of etchings donated by students long ago (you know, the moustaches, airplanes flying over a civil war battlefield). But, at what cost? Textbooks are among the highest priced titles in the publishing industry. In an article, “Most.Expensive.Textbook.Ever” by Jackie Burrell, college students have reported science textbooks that sell for $190, $225 and even (gulp!) $3000. In 2008, College Trends reported that U.S. students pay $3.5 billion for their textbooks. An average student could shell out $1000 or more per school year. The NY Times editorial, “That Book Costs How Much?” highlights the new (and, as yet, not very popular) trend of some colleges to have students pay a nominal fee to access their textbooks online. With the increasing popularity of digital book readers (Kindle, Nook, etc.), more and more textbooks are available in e-form. But, beware: just because the popular fiction titles are cheaper in digital form, doesn’t mean that a textbook will be. The title, Textbook of Clinical Trials by David Machin (2007), is available in e-book form for $421. The same title is $216 in Kindle format, BUT it is the 2004 edition. You have to be very careful when purchasing to get the right edition. Consider buying a used textbook. Book distributors, like Amazon, have a dedicated section for buying. You can search by ISBN, title or author and receive discounts off used books. There is a drawback to this method, however. My daughter is taking a summer class at a local community college to fulfill a liberal arts requirement. Four days before the class she mentioned that she didn’t know which textbook she needed and was “starting to panic, Mom!!” Her father checked the college’s website and – would you believe?? – the course number was listed on the website, along with a description and a list of required and recommended textbooks. Although I found the book for $1.99 on Amazon, I didn’t want to pay $17.99 for expedited shipping (did I mention it was July 4th weekend, too?), so we ordered the book through the college’s bookstore. We had the option of purchasing used or new. We chose used. Within three hours, I received an email from the bookstore saying that the used edition was ready to be picked up. Easy, easy! Yes, this should have been done a week or two before, but, as much as we all want our children to be responsible and independent, they are still first and foremost procrastinators. What happens when the semester ends? Most colleges allow students to sell back their textbooks for a percentage off what they paid – like automobile depreciation. The student dispenses with the book for cold, hard cash. This is handy in that your child doesn’t have to lug his books home along with the stereo, television and mounds of clothes at the end of the school year. Or, you can sell it through a distributor. My favorite is Alibris, but Amazon features a Textbook Buyback option as does Barnes & Noble. Be aware, though, of yet another problem with textbooks: they are updated so quickly (especially in the sciences) that the $190 biochemistry text that you bought in August may be replaced by another edition. Your book is now worth a mere fraction of what you paid for it. Some editorialists believe that these upgrades are not done to improve the quality of the text, but to keep prices up and revenue streaming into the publishing houses. How can you help your college-age student? Do your homework. Search out deals for buying and selling and the school year will be a bit cheaper for you.

Technology has opened up a lot of new ways to read.  Since Amazon’s Kindle exploded on the market in 2007, the art (or science?) of reading has changed.  The debate continues, though:  Do I digitally read or do I read the old-fashioned way?  Will I miss that comforting feeling of physically holding a book in my hands, the feel of turning the pages, the joy of seeing a much-loved book on my shelves?  Will books “go away” all together, leaving heaps of Kindles and Nooks behind? Will libraries disappear only to re-emerge in the Virtual Universe?  In various industries, the pharmaceutical industry for one, they all but have.  I love my Kindle.  I love the portability (yes, I take a good dozen books with me on vacation), the contrast (able to read the device outside at high noon as well as in very low light), the convenience (WhisperNet, I love you!).  Not only has the digital book industry grown over the past few years, but so has the audiobook industry.  Statistics don’t lie – people are listening to their favorite books now.  Sales of audiobooks and audiobook downloads are up 17% in 2008 and 21% in 2009.  For nine years, I drove 45 minutes to work each day each way and began my love affair with the art of listening to books then.  Starting with audiocassettes about five years ago, I switched to CD’s when the technology changed.   And now?  MP3 downloads — the convenience, the storage on a small device, less clutter, better quality.  Audiobooks allow me to return to a time when Mom read to me.  There is a caveat, however. They must be well narrated.  Most authors are not very good at reading their own books.  Lisa Genova of Still Alice is monotone.  The anger and pain of the family watching their matriarch slide into Alzheimer’s are delivered in a drab delivery.  Better to read this one in book or in digital book form.  An exception is Paul Auster.  The Book of Illusions is a good narration by an author — moody, dark, well-toned — a nice listen.  Would Charles Dickens have narrated his own books?  Not sure, but to have missed the rich tones and facets of so many entertaining characters of Our Mutual Friend narrated by David Timson would be criminal.  British actor Jim Dale has been listed in the Guiness Book of World Records for voicing the most characters in an audiobook ever.  Throughout the Harry Potter audio series, he gives life to over 200 characters — each one unique.  Genius!  Recently, I became acquainted with Audie-award winner, Kathryn Kellgren‘s narratives.  Try out Austenland or the Bloody Jack series — pure paradise for the ears!  There are many companies that offer audiobooks for rent and for sale.  Some like Amazon’s partner,, have only downloads for sale.  Others, like The and Just offer CD rentals as well as downloads.  Can’t part with your cassette or CD players?  It’s difficult to find new copies of audiobooks on cassettes (and getting to be more difficult on CDs), but you can find used items on Albris, Amazon or Barnes and Noble.  What are the costs?  Competitive.  Most audiobook dealers have memberships via monthly or annual fees.  These fees will cost roughly $7.49 (for newcomers) to $14.95. If you buy annual memberships, each book credit will cost $12.50 or under.  There are membership perks as well.  I downloaded a wonderfully narrated, excellent quality rendition of A Christmas Carol read by Tim Curry as a gift from  Just recently, I received an email offer to buy three audiobooks for two credits.  All of the audiobook dealers I checked will allow you to download samples before  you buy.  I also recommend reading customer reviews. Customers seem to comment more honestly on vocal nuances and download quality much better than professional reviewers.  Your public library may have downloads for free as well – so check it out!  Warning: watch out for a site called  The last time a book was added to its collection was February, 2008.  They also hawk an MP3 book reader called Archos with 1000 books already loaded and is the size of a small truck.  Why would I want that when I have a Zune and the Reader on my iPhone?  Not only that, the books are not really free.  Check other sites for free downloads as well – you can get classics, but the quality may be poor.  For more information about the audiobook industry, check out the APA (The Audiobook Publishing Association) that sponsors the Audies each year – awards for the best audiobooks of the year.  Enjoy reading with your ears!