Saturday, August 28, 2010

Textbook, Anyone?

Day 201 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and college students all over the place are cracking open their textbooks and reading the first assignment in their basic texts in anthropology, art history, etc., etc.

Or still obtaining their texts, used or new. Or otherwise handling the textbook racket.

If you are a college student or have one as a kid, you know it's a racket. If you write, edit, or publish textbooks, or if your ex-husband does, you know it's a racket. Likewise, if you run a college bookstore. I won't go on.

Or I will only go on briefly, to mention the poetry racket. I forgot to say, back when I was reading The Cookbook Collector, by Allegra Goodman, how I loved the character of the old poet--his annoying ego, his marvelous rebellion, and his declaration about cutthroat rivalry in that world.

And a little further to say it may be so cutthroat because it's so hard to make a living if you write poetry. You might have to give it up for a long time and do something else--sell insurance, manage a corporation, deliver babies, teach, or...stay a writer, but write children's books, which I think is what happened with Gary Soto, who wrote Junior College, a book of poems I found on a remainder table for $1. Sigh.

He has written numerous other books for children and adults, but shifted toward young adult literature from poetry, I heard, in order to make a living. I admire his dedication to reading and writing. And I admire his poems! I love the deep hole he digs, sweating, in "Peach Pit," and how, eventually, it gets at poets' insecurities:

My mother-in-law padded out in furry slippers
And remarked, "It's not deep enough,"
A line I have lived with
Since I first sharpened a #2 pencil.

And I love "Rivers Inside the Blue Lines of Binder Paper," which begins:

The English prof told us to draw our ideas
And left the classroom feeling for the bottle
Of peach brandy inside his coat.

I love the coincidence of peach.

Best wishes as you crack open textbooks and as you start back to school, teaching or learning. Best wishes at the beginning of the semester, as you try to find an affordable textbook, and at the end, as you try to sell it back. I'm so glad students have found ways to sell and obtain used textbooks, sidestepping the racket. Be careful out there.

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