First, some economic realities of academic publishing. University presses tend to lose money or do a little better than break even. They are not money-printing operations. There are probably some exceptions to this generality. Most academics do not make money writing and publishing — it is not worth their time if the only motivation was the money. Academics make money in publishing when they write a very successful textbook.
Second, some personal disclosures. I work in two areas of academic publishing. I write academic books and work in a bookshop that specializes in academic theology books. I am also linked to academic publishing in a third way as I teach, and so assign academic books as textbooks.
The fact that I produce books and receive royalties from their sales (piddling as these royalties may be) probably partially accounts for my strong stance against downloading copyrighted material. I did take a stance agains this before I produced books, realizing that photocopying books (which happened when I was an undergrad back when dinosaurs roamed the earth) or downloading scanned books is illegal. I don’t make copies outside of fair use for my students, didn’t before I was published, don’t now that I am published. I am pretty scrupulous about this. I realize that not everyone is so scrupulous.
Working in retail has given me a different perspective on academic publishing. In the bookshop where I work we give everyone the best price we can. We always discount 20% off the retail price where this is possible. Unfortunately, it is commonly not possible on textbooks because university presses give a short discount to retailers on textbooks. This is irritating to us in the store, and also to students. It seems backward, but see above. Textbooks are the one place university presses have a chance of making enough money to break even or do better. It is that whole captive audience thing. So part of me kind of understands it, though I find it irritating. In my mind, however, this doesn’t justify cranking out editions of very popular textbooks. That seems like pushing a good thing way too far.
So, as a producer and consumer of academic books what can I do? Well, do I want to publish with the Oxford University Press? Should I decline to publish with them because of their questionable ethical practices around the many editions issue, as exemplified in the Ehrman text? Do I avoid using Oxford University Press books as texts in my courses where that is possible? Yes, these are all things I should do. My own personal stance on this won’t change the OUP. But my conscience will feel better.
I purchase and receive used books at a theological bookshop. Most of the books I purchase come from retiring professors or clergy. It is always fun when someone drops off a bunch of boxes — it is kind of like treasure hunting. I really like cracking open a box and sorting through the books. There is no real reason why I need to be the first person on staff to do this, but I do get possessive of the boxes, and irritated with other staff who want to rummage through the new stuff. This is probably a personality failing of some kind, but I’m not sure how to classify it exactly. But it is always fun to sort through a stack and spot interesting things, or find rare gems. The rare gems are pretty rare, but you never know what you’ll find in a box or what a little research might reveal about something that looks drab and boring.
When I’m receiving and pricing books I flip through them to get a sense of the shape they are in. Are the pages bright or are they showing age? Are there marks in the text? If there are only pencil marks, that is nothing. Ink marks are a little worse. Highlighting kills a book in my view. Dead. I won’t buy a book that is highlighted for my own collection, why would I expect someone to buy a highlighted text from the shop? Depending on the previous owner, notes can add value to a book, or detract from the value of the book. I’ve got two copies of a book on spirituality by John Macquarrie. I am interested in the book itself, as evidenced by the fact that I acquired it twice, but why keep two copies? One is in nice shape for my own reading. The other is annotated by a Famous Female Preacher. I’ll keep both thanks.
I often find various bits of things used as bookmarks in the used books. I’ve got a folder full of bits and scraps found inserted into books we’ve got in our collection. One of the actual bookmarks left in a book sold to us is a big leather bookmark that says “Where I Left Off, Bala, Muskoka” on it. This bookmark made me smile. I volunteer at a summer camp near Bala, Muskoka. I wouldn’t buy a bookmark as a souvenir of Bala, but it was fun to find one!
What do you use to mark your place in books?
I work with used books in my job. In the inventory are a lot of books that count as “old” by my definition of the word given the other day in my reading resolutions. I should have no trouble with reading 1/3 old books right? Maybe.
Which old books to should I read? And do I read old fiction as well as old non-fiction? Yes, I should read old fiction too, but that is harder to figure out. Some old fiction books have aged well and are pleasant to read. Others are cheesy and hokey and hardly worth the paper they were printed on. IMHO of course. How does one tell the difference? I’m not sure. I think the library will be my source for older fiction, and this resolution may mean I finally read some people like Waugh or Trollope. Possibly even Dickens. I think I’ve lots of old books to read and it won’t be a problem reading 1 old book for every two new ones. But I’m a bit worried at the moment. I’ve finished a new book. I’ve got one more new book, then it is old book time for me. Good thing I’ve got St. Athanasius on the go. He definitely counts.
Any suggestions for older fiction (where my cut off date is 1970 for “old”) that is worth reading? Let me know.
Today I found that a used bookshop that I had not visited in some time was still open. This was good news as another on the same stretch of road had closed. I happily went into the still open shop, found the same helpful people inside, and space to browse the extensive collection of books. I came away with a mystery that one of the helpful people inside recommended (“if you don’t like it, bring it back, we’ll trade it for another”), another mystery in a series I discovered this year, two books from the Church of England series by Susan Howatch that I didn’t yet own and a Chaim Potok novel I haven’t read. I thought I’d read all of Potok, happy discovery that I’m wrong!
I like used bookshops. A lot. I visited one of my current favourites yesterday and had a happy conversation with the proprietor about the books of Haruki Murakami. I like nice people who work in used bookshops, who read lots of books, who like what they sell, and who understand the concept of browsing the shop.
Inventory happened last week at the theological bookshop where I work. I did the inventory of the used books as well as the stock room. Today, as happens every year after inventory, was the day I tried to find the missing stock. I had some success — books were behind other books on the shelf, or were small and overlooked during the first round of inventory-taking. But, there were a lot of books still missing. Some of these books have been missing for a while — I’ve gone looking for them for customers and have not found them.
Let’s be frank here. “Missing” stock generally means stolen stock. Note that I work at a theological bookshop. This means stolen material includes items with titles like The Door to Heaven, or Justification. I ranted a few times at innocent bystanders today, including one of our regular customers, addressing the absent persons who absconded with these books. “REALLY???” I said, with some sarcasm. “Really? You stole a book called Justification? How do you justify that?” Or, “Really? A youth ministry book about setting an example for youth? Really? You stole that?”
Also missing from used books: several Bibles, a Book of Common Prayer, the Eucharist service, several books from the pastoral ministry section, several books from the spirituality section, a whole lot of New Testament commentaries with 1 & 2 Thessalonians particularly well represented, as well as a few interesting literature selections. The winner with the most books MIA was the Theology section. REALLY? C’mon people. Isn’t there a commandment about this?
brings you today’s post. L is for Lurking.
I lurk in libraries and other locations where lots of books live. Like used bookshops. I find things to read by standing and looking at shelves and shelves of books. I realize that not everyone finds books this way. I’ve got friends who complain that bookshops are overwhelming — they’ve no idea what to pick or where to look or if something is any good. But I lurk and find lovely and unexpected things.
I found my dissertation topic while lurking in the stacks of a major research library. Really, that’s what happened. I didn’t initially use the word “lurk” for the process, but when I described what happened to a prof, he said “Oh, you were lurking in the stacks.” Yes, that is exactly what I was doing. I was lurking in the stacks looking at books on biblical studies. I was working as a research assistant on a project to recover women interpreters of the Bible, particularly women from the 19th century, thus I always kept my eye open for old books. I spotted an old book that said “Trimmer on the Bible” on the spine. I pulled it off the shelf. I was holding a 200-year-old commentary on the whole Bible written by Sarah Trimmer. It turned out that Trimmer was a prolific writer, primarily interested in teaching the Bible to others. Since that was also my interest, I did a little research and wrote a dissertation called “Teaching the Bible with Sarah Trimmer.” Lurking pays off. (That’s Trimmer on the left.)
I also lurk in other locations where books can be found. I said used bookshops above, but any bookshop will do. I prefer used bookshops because they seem somehow more suited to lurking. Inveterate browsers often congregate there. There are three used bookshops within walking distance of my house. I lurk in all of them at different times. The closest one tends to the pricer side, but they also frequently have interesting items. I found Elizabeth I: Collected Writings there. I snapped it up. The other two are next door to one another. This may seem odd, but they are not remotely similar. One is The World’s Messiest Bookshop. Seriously. You cannot beat the place for mess. The advantage is that the guy who runs the place knows his stock. Every single time I buy something from him he has a comment on the book or the author. This shop also has The World’s Longest Sale going on, so I keep going back. He’s got loads of interesting Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Mysteries. The next-door shop appears, by contrast, to be the World’s Neatest Bookshop. This guy’s collection is smaller, but he is selective. I’ve also found some interesting things there.
The most interesting used bookshop I’ve been in recently is only open in the summer. It is called The Net Shed and books are paid for by donation to the Friends of the Meaford Library. They had all kinds of interesting things and a large number of lurkers the particular Saturday 1Mom took me there. It is her favourite source of books.
Where do you lurk to find books?