College Without Books

by Nathan Harden

Students in the Cal State University system will now be able to view their textbooks on their computers, iPads, or even phones. Thanks to a new partnership with five leading textbook publishers, students will be able to access these digital texts at a 65 percent discount.

As a recent college grad, I recall paying as much as $500 to acquire the books for a single class. While I prefer real books to digital ones, the cost savings might have been enough to make me choose digital texts had they been widely available then.

Personally, I spent too much time staring at computers in college, even without having to do all my reading online. I love the cost efficiencies of digital technology. But I hate the way we are now living so much of our lives tethered to mind-numbing computer screens. 

In related news, I just learned that the wonderful four-story Barnes & Noble bookstore in my old neighborhood in Manhattan is closing its doors. This is where I used to go and while away hours browsing, picking up books, thumbing through them, and breathing in the aroma of new paper and ink. I’m not sure which is better: the crisp, green smell of a new book, or the musty, leathery smell of one from the back shelf of an old library.

Once I found an old book at Yale that had not been checked out in 30 years. You could still see the due date stamp on the back page, along with a record of each time it had been checked out — once or twice per decade — going back for a hundred years. Occasionally, I would hold such a book and think of the students from by-gone times, some long since deceased, who had studied and read the very book I had in my hand. The book was a physical inheritance, which I felt, somehow, they had left to me. They were gone; the book was still there.

I miss that feeling.