Let’s Talk Textbooks!

A Discussion of Textbooks

In the book blogosphere we, of course, spend a lot time talking about books: what we like, where we buy them, how we organize them, and how we write about them.  Today, however, I want to expand our horizons a little beyond fiction, which tends to get most of the love, and talk about textbooks! 

These questions might be most relevant to college students or grads since, at least where I live, high school students are loaned textbooks by the school and are expected to return them in the same condition they received them at the end of the year.  So maybe there’s not much to talk about there.  But I hope even those who don’t spend a lot of time with or talking about textbooks can find something of interest in this discussion.

Where do you buy your textbooks?

Personally, I always do that dance where I look all over and compare prices and see whether paying one dollar less for a used book is worth passing up a brand new book.  I only like books in great condition, so I’m not willing to buy a book with highlighting and writing even if it’s vastly cheaper than a book without markings.  In the end, I tend to find what I’m looking for from independent sellers on Amazon, books that have a “used” price but are in “like new” condition.  (Though every semester I seem to encounter one book that no one sells and is strangely only available from the campus bookstore!)

Do you write in your textbooks?

I prefer keeping my books pristine, so notes in my textbooks happen in two instances:

  1. Foreign language classes, where I write down difficult vocabulary translations, and where I sometimes summarize novel plots in the margins.  I’m not at a level where I can skim books in Spanish or Latin the way I can in English, so plot notes help me find relevant passages more easily.
  2. I’m running out of time and it’s faster to write in the book than to take notes.  In literature classes, taking notes often involves marking down plot points so you know what part of the novel you’re talking about.  Sometimes, writing notes in the margin, directly next to said plot point, can save valuable time for a harassed student!

Do you tend to keep your textbooks?

I majored in English, so a fair number of my “textbooks” were actually novels.  I assume the same will be true as I enter grad school for English literature.  Novels I always keep.  Actual textbooks, I usually sell back (and, again, I usually get the best prices from Amazon, though once in a while Barnes & Noble does offer me a better deal).  Sometimes I hesitate about selling and think, “But I may want to reference this book one day!”  Then I realize that if I ever want know, say, how to do a differential equation again the future, I’m far more likely to look it up online than I am to search around in a textbook.

Thoughts?  Questions?  (I do have experience working in a college bookstore, so I might actually have answers!)

16 thoughts on “Let’s Talk Textbooks!

  1. wildnightin says:

    Great post! You’re right, text books never really get mentioned by book bloggers.

    Unlike you, I usually prefer to get hold of text books that have highlighting and notes in them when their last owner has actively read the textbook and argued with the text (in pencil) about different points. There’s something rather enjoyable about stumbling upon a different perspective: it’s like attending an extra impromptu seminar.


    • Briana says:

      I like that idea in theory. I guess I’ve just never stumbled across a previous note-taker whom I particularly liked! 😉

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts!


      • Krysta says:

        I’ve seen some pretty hilarious notes in the margins (as in, factually incorrect), but nothing that was particularly thought-provoking, unfortunately.


  2. revgeorge says:

    Well, back in the olden days when I went to college, namely the 80’s & early 90’s, you had two choices where you wanted to buy textbooks. The college bookstore located on campus or the college bookstore located right across the street from campus.

    When I went to seminary, the texts required were carried in the seminary bookstore. You’d have a hard job finding them anywhere else since they were pretty specialized in most cases. And of course, this was still in the mid to late 90’s. Everything was before the Internet and way before Amazon.

    I never got in the habit of writing in my textbooks. Or really taking notes at all. 🙂

    Most of the texts I had at seminary I kept because I’m still using them in ministry. From college I held onto the textbooks in my majors (History/Political Science) for awhile. I also kept a few literature and philosophy textbooks. After awhile though most of my textbooks from college either fell apart, got lost, or became too dated.


    • Briana says:

      I can imagine textbook purchases were very different, even in the 90’s. It sounds as if you lucked out by at least having two physical bookstores to choose from, though. 😉

      Yes, I still get assigned some specialized textbooks, particularly for language classes, so even today the Internet can’t do everything for me!

      Good point about books becoming dated. Probably another argument to try to sell some of them back and make some money while you can.


  3. Krysta says:

    I never liked taking notes in the textbook because, to me, that sort of defeats the purpose of a quick review, since I would have had to flip through the entire text to find my marginalia anyway. If I wanted to know what part of the book my notes referred to, I would simply reference the page number or line number in my notes.

    As for selling back textbooks–that can be a tricky ground for some students, I fear. The lure of getting quick money back leads some people just to get rid of their books at the end of the semester (especially if they didn’t like the class), but it’s usually best not to sell back textbooks from your major. Some of that information is rather specialized and thus difficult to find online, and the last thing you want is to need some little tidbit of information back from an earlier course only to realize that you no longer have the book where you could find it.


    • Briana says:

      I think I used a purple pen, so my marginalia was pretty noticeable. 🙂 Generally speaking, I agree though.

      That’s a good point, as well. Since I majored in English, having to reference past textbooks wasn’t generally a consideration for me. Even for my math classes, though, I found it fairly easy to look up any topics I didn’t remember online, even advanced ones. But I can’t speak for all subjects, of course! And I do think it’s usually a good idea to keep books from your major.


  4. Ana @ Read Me Away says:

    The price of my textbooks varied widely, depending on the subject. My foreign language books were much cheaper compared to my science books. Hence, I’m more inclined to write in my foreign language book but less so with my science books, preferring to stick to highlighting the really important bits. I usually pass on my science books to my friends in the lower years, and if anyone’s interested, the foreign language ones too.

    But when I moved to a new country and got into grad school, the price of my textbooks shot up dramatically. The textbooks we’ve been using were available in the library, and we were encouraged to borrow them instead of buying, because they were really expensive. Our classes involved mostly looking at parts of a text book or journal articles, so a student wouldn’t really maximise their textbook if they bought it. I just checked out one book and kept renewing it over the semester. I’ll probably change my tune when I go back to school again, and might be required to buy textbooks. -_-


    • Briana says:

      Yes! Math and science textbooks do tend to be more expense than those for other subjects. I generally had good luck getting a good price selling mine back, though, so it wasn’t a total loss.

      It’s always interesting to hear about professors who encourage finding creative ways to access textbooks, instead of paying high prices for them. Mine personally didn’t seem to worry about that. I was pretty annoyed when I was asked to buy a Norton Anthology of Poetry one semester–because most of the poems we were studying were out of copyright and free online! Ah, well.

      I’ve had some friends who had luck with the library, but I’m always afraid I’ll go and they’ll be out of copies of the books I want. My undergrad school also had an option where you could request a book that was checked out, and then the person was forced to return it (otherwise you could check out a book for the whole semester). And I was afraid someone in my class who wanted the book would do that to me!


      • Krysta says:

        I think sometimes professors ask students to buy something like the Norton for the notes and introductions, as well as the overviews of the historical period. Just a thought.

        I agree about checking something out from the library, though–I was always worried someone else from the class would get to it first!


  5. Allison @ The Book Wheel says:

    I’ve been trying to buy more textbooks on my Kindle because many of my graduate course books aren’t standard textbooks, but rather regular non-fiction books (although much longer than the casual, fun book). In undergrad, I purchased most of my books online wherever I could find it cheaper and then would resell them when I was done.


    • Briana says:

      E-textbooks are cheaper! I’ve thought about them, but I personally don’t feel I pay attention to ebooks as well as I do paperbacks. Though I would love the “search text” option to use for novels in English classes!

      I’m actually surprised by the amount of people who don’t buy books online.


  6. Miranda @ Tempest Books says:

    I’m really picky about marking up books that I own as part of my personal collection…like I never, ever write in them. But when I was in college, my textbooks were FULL of notes, highlighting, stars, etc. That’s just how I study and remember important information. It never bothered me at all to do that to my books! I think that part of it was knowing that I really wasn’t going to use those books again, so it didn’t really matter if I marked them all up. They’re not going to become favorites and sit on my shelves forever haha, so I was very liberal when it came to that.


    • Briana says:

      It’s really interesting how we tend to draw a distinction between textbooks and other books. I don’t write in my personal books either, but, as I mentioned, I have written in textbooks!


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