What we read

Courtesy Photo / Google Images

Courtesy Photo / Google Images

Susie Skowronek

When students finally pick up their new books and start reading at the beginning of the semester, they continue a thoughtful and sometimes rocky process begun by their professors.

This winter 2011 semester, some professors decided Thomas Pynchon’s “The Crying Lot of 49” would be worth the read, and the book will appear in the hands of both ENG 328: Contemporary American Literature and ENG 330: Studies in Fiction students. Pynchon’s work appeared on The College Board’s list of 101 suggested books for college-bound readers.

Refer to the information box for other GVSU books found on the College Board’s list.

In the fall, writing professor Chris Haven strugled over which books to put in the hands of his students during Authors in Depth, one of several guinea pig courses for a new writing curriculum. He settled on examining and comparing the careers of two writers – Canadian woman Margaret Atwood and American man John Updike. Haven drew lists of books by each author – extensive lists because each has written prolifically – and narrowed the selections.

“I had read many of the books myself, and ended up including books that either had made an impact on me when I first read them or that interested me now,” he said. “I consulted friends and colleagues for recommendations, and I used user reviews on Amazon as a guide, too, to gauge both what academic readers and a general readership thought of the books.”

But when he looked at some of the early works of Updike and Atwood, he met disappointment. Several books were out of print, and though he wanted to include certain works of poetry, Haven said he could not guarantee their availability for students. He had to settle for his second choices.

While much of the professors’ interaction with the bookstore concludes before the semester even begins, students deal with the bookstore for more than just the initial purchase of their texts. Students also come to report stolen goods throughout the semester.

University Bookstore associate manager Tony Glaab fills out a stolen book report when students come to express their claims.

“Unfortunately, books are one of those commodities that can be turned into money,” he said. “When a book is stolen, I ask if you can identify the book.”

Glaab said students should write their initials or a word on a certain page in each book. Then, every time the book returns to the bookstore, employees can check the book for its distinguishing mark. (For more tips on buying books, refer to the information box.)

While some noted writers will make appearances on – and, for the unlucky victims of theft, disappearances from – the shelves this semester, their most famous works will make room for less popular titles. Instead of reading Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice,” some ENG 330: Studies in Fiction students will pick up copies of “Emma.” Instead of reading “The Scarlet Letter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne, the bookstore will carry “The House of Seven Gables” for a section of ENG 624: Genre Studies.

“We want books that address current issues, and the kinds of things that we are thinking about in our own professional lives,” Haven said. “There are also certain lessons that we have that we know work well, so often we’ll choose a text based on whether or not it will accommodate our tried-and-true lesson plans.”

Other classics noticeably did not make the booklists. For example, English professors steered clear of Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” and J.D. Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye.”

Professors and booksellers also deal with juggling new editions of books. Publishers require authors or editors to supply new versions of texts, Haven said.

“This allows them to capitalize on the sale of a new textbook, even if little or nothing has substantively changed in that period of time,” he added.

This semester, the bookstore will carry many of William Shakespeare’s works because GVSU has a class dedicated to not only to theatre (ENG 340: Studies in Drama) but also two courses focused solely on the Bard himself (ENG 212: Introduction to Shakespeare and ENG 313: British Literature: Shakespeare).

The first two sections of ENG 313: Introduction to Shakespeare require students to pick up copies of “Henry IV (Part I),” “Othello” and “Merchant of Venice.” However, in all three cases, each professor lists a different editor on the required editions. When examining classic writers such as Shakespeare, professors have many editions from which to choose.

Some professors prefer students use a certain edition of the book, while some do not mind if students use different copies.

Haven said most professors are sensitive to the cost of textbooks and will make reasonable choices.

“I let the bookstore know if the course requires a specific edition, or if students can choose any edition,” Haven added. “Many times older editions of the same text are available, and might still work for the class.”

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