Opinion: Everything Wrong With Buying Textbooks

There’s no better welcome back every semester than the completely demoralizing process of buying textbooks.

Let’s start with the obvious. There’s nothing your typical “broke college kid” wants to do more than shell out a few hundred dollars on some good old-fashioned dry textbook reading. If I’m going to spend an absurd amount of money, I at least want it to be on something enjoyable. Textbooks? Not so much.

I could probably think of a thousand other things I’d rather spend $400 on than half of a tree sliced up and graffitied with chemistry formulas. Like getting my teeth pulled. There’s just something so horrifying about paying hundreds of dollars for a frighteningly heavy book that is only going to make me cry come finals week. At least all of those pages will make a great sponge for my tears.

Now if you’re like me, then the idea of ordering textbooks over break is entirely unappealing. A downer of such an extreme caliber is just not something I want to think about on vacation time, so I wait for the giant rush at the bookstore during the first few days of school.

When I finally muster up the courage to enter the madhouse, it takes everything I have not to run away and take my chances without books. The lines are daunting: they coil in and out of the shelves and seem to disappear into the distance. Far, far into the distance.

Traffic in the textbook shelves is so bad that Chris Christie might have something to do with it—finding my books is more about navigating the people and the obnoxious baskets than the books themselves. And of course everyone needs an obnoxious basket, because those textbooks might as well join the weights at the Plex.

Buy used books, they say. Save money! Sure, used books are a great way to get ripped off just a bit less than by buying new books, but by the time I find my shelf, there never seems to be any used books left! I love checking out the price tags to see just how much money I can’t save anyway. It feels great.

Don’t even get me started on ordering textbooks elsewhere online. Sometimes I wonder if the money I save getting my books on Amazon is worth the hassle. Never, not once, have all of my books arrived on time for the first week of classes, no matter when I order. Whether it’s backordered, “in transit,” or whatever other shipping jargon they throw in my face, all I know is that my books aren’t here. Or maybe the textbooks have arrived and the BC mailroom is just holding them hostage to watch me sweat. It could be they process textbook packages last just to force me into the jungle they call a bookstore until my empty wallet mocks me.

When I finally have all my books, by the end of add-drop week, there’s always at least one textbook that I need to return. But, BC being the wonderful institution that it is, chances are I had homework on syllabus week and had to rip off that terrible plastic wrap. Of course, any BC student can tell you that that book is no longer viable for return. Awesome.

The next step is the extremely awkward post in the class year Facebook group to try to sell off the textbook. There’s simply no way to phrase that post that’s the slightest bit endearing. Then you have to deal with constant inbox messages and price negotiations. If you’re lucky enough to attract a buyer, that is, because who wants a book without plastic wrap?

By the end of the semester, I never want to see another textbook again. And, of course, I always find that I didn't even need all the books I bought for some of my classes. Sometimes professors decide just not to use the ones they’ve assigned. Other times I simply never opened them anyway and regret the $100 I spent trying to convince myself I would.

But of course, come next semester, I will try to sell off my old books for a fraction of the price I bought them. In all likelihood a new edition has come out for each of them with exactly one word updated, so of course I can’t sell them. It’s a scam, I tell you. There’s nothing better than a professor who makes you overpay for a textbook that he or she wrote, and corrects one typo each semester so the books are impossible to sell at the end of the semester. Don’t worry, I’ll just use my 27th edition as light reading when I’m bored over break, so it will never go to waste.

Hopefully the books of this semester have yet not bled you dry, and your editions stay ever up to date. With the last day for textbook returns fast approaching, I wish you all the luck that your wallet and your patience deserve.