Oh, Totally Sweet

That’s what a grad student next to me said when he saw the most recent publisher book fair in progress in our department.


May 11, 2007

That’s what a grad student next to me said when he saw the most recent publisher book fair in progress in our department. He wore a t-shirt that read “Shakespeare hates your emo poems,” a pair of tragically hip glasses, and a big grin. The grin was justified. (The glasses were not.)

If you don’t teach in the English Department of a big university, you might not be familiar with publishers’ book fairs. Every few weeks, textbook companies send sales staff (often very junior associates) to display their relevant books on a table or two in our copy room, where there’s a lot of grad student and faculty traffic. The idea is that if you are given the chance to fondle an $80 English lit textbook, you’ll adopt it for a course you’re teaching next semester, and anywhere from 30 to 300 kids will have to buy it.

This opportunity was not the cause of the TA’s joy, however. That came from the platters of sub sandwiches, which the publisher’s rep brought with her, on a counter across the room. The bait food at these things varies in quality, depending on each publisher’s latest quarterly earnings.

A book fair signals, for some, the chance to wallow in freebies that just can’t be had any other way as a grad student. Imagine Templeton the Rat eating himself sick at the county fair in Charlotte’s Web. The smorgasbord includes:

1) Free subs or pizza.
2) Free desk copies of books for courses.
3) Other free books you pretend are potentially for courses you might teach but never will, which you just want to read, like The Best American Short Stories.
4) Big heavy free books that can later be sold to the “weasels”—guys who come around and buy “books you’re not using” off your shelves, then send them to big companies like Barnes & Noble and Nebraska Book Company, for sale to students as used books. To a poor grad student, it’s pure profit, albeit pennies on the dollar. I wrote a piece on this trend a while back, here .
5) Grist for blogging. (Is there an uglier word in the language, blogging? Blog. Blog U. Hey, Blog me.

Because I too subscribe to the tenets of SuperOptimism (watch instructive videos here and here) I can say that I have hopes that this magazine will restore the dropped link to my archives at any moment. Then, when the kids want to be driven to their violin lessons, you’ll have a super excuse: Sorry kids, Churm’s archives are back up! And they’re free! Which is one of the sweetest things in life!


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