Phi Beta Cons

The Right take on higher education.

College Without Books


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.


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