If you are a student, and you've wondered about the answer to that question yourself in regard to a literature class in which you enrolled, the answer is NO. NO, SHARING THE BOOKS IS NOT A GOOD IDEA. (And, in fact, my course policies, which state that you need to have the literature we're discussing in front of you each and every class period or you'll be asked to leave and charged with an absence does underscore that fact.)
I wasn't actually going to blog about the above. I posted a one-liner on Fb about it, and that was going to be that, I thought. But I forgot that my Fb friends are not all academics, and in fact I have a goodly collection of former suitors among my Fb friends, and I've had a history of fraternizing with suitors who are exceptionally irritating and who like to pipe up in ways and at times that are completely wrong, and so of course, who comes along to put in his two cents but this fool, also known as The T., with whom I cavorted for like a month in 1998 and who remained a bizarre (and usually drunk) fixture until approximately 2001, who was all, "You are a compassionless cog in the corporate machine, for the students are poor and how dare you expect them to purchase the required materials to learn your subject?" And then when I accused him of being a malcontent (jokingly, sort of) in his comments to my status updates he was all hurt and prickly (or just a prick, take your pick).
Fb for me is like a dream where you show up at a bar and all of the ghosts of your past are milling around and either blabbing about their children (mainly high school and elementary school people) or or leaving random comments to you about your current life (guys from your misspent youth), while at the same time all of your current friends are there and look confused at who all these other weirdos are, and also your family is there shouting (in all capital letters) over the din and giving updates about family illnesses and such. In other words, it is surreal.
But anyway, I was very irritated not only by the students who asked about sharing the books but also by The T., who made it his business to take up for them. Because here's the thing. I spend a lot of time and energy working to keep book costs low. (The books for this course cost students around 60 bucks if they buy them totally brand new, much less if they get used copies.)
But the reality is that in my discipline, where the entire object of study are those texts on the syllabus (in other words, it's not like the books are just "about" the subject - they in fact are the subject):
- You need to be able to consult the book after you've done the reading.
- You cannot write a paper without the book.
- You cannot participate in class discussion without the book.
- You cannot think about the literature without the book, not in a way that has any depth.
And if one is going to teach literature that was written anytime in recent memory, one is dependent on making students buy actual books because you can't access stuff under copyright for free. And let's be real: in a general education type course, if it's possible, you want to convince students that literature is something that connects to their lives and that is worthy of their time even outside the classroom, and while you might teach some historical stuff, you also probably are going to want to show them that literature didn't stop being produced somewhere around 1900 (given the constraints of the course, naturally).
I suppose the thing that underlies all of my irritation about the above is that I think that the idea that the books in my courses are somehow unnecessary is really about people thinking that reading literature and analyzing it requires absolutely no training. I think that people assume that the study of literature isn't important or serious or meaningful. And that makes me want to pinch people.