Student choice is the driving force behind purchasing used books, and we (the junior English teacher and I) just finished loading in the 800+ books purchased at the Newtown, CT, and Stockbridge, MA, book sales into the closet we use as a book room. (They certainly FELT like 800 books!) The room is conveniently (?) located behind a large bathroom, and teachers must patiently wait for us to leave when we rummage for texts during the school year. There are shelves along the walls and a set of two mobile (and very unstable) wooden rolling shelf units. We have successfully expanded our holdings enough in one year to crowd out all other groups using the room as storage.
Since the books I am purchasing average $1.00 in cost, I have the ability to experiment with texts for independent reading. Before I started purchasing used books, I would spend a great deal of time researching a book, looking for the best price, and anxiously await complaints from students (“…this is the worst book EVER!”) or teachers (“…does not work in this unit…”). I have had my successes in The Things They Carried and The Road; I have had few takers with Nectar in a Sieve. When new trade paperbacks average $8/copy from discount booksellers, I have concerns about committing $240.00 of the department’s money for 30 copies of an untested title. However, at $1.00/text, or $30 for a class set, I can afford to make a few mistakes in determining what students might read.
As I have shopped, I have been adding to the Memoir elective that runs during the fall semester for 12th grade students. Students are assigned two core texts, one of which is A Hole in My Life by Jack Gantos but this title is never available in used book sales.
The other assigned text is The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls, and there are usually several used copies at each book sale. Students will have to choose at least two other memoirs to read independently during the course as well as write an abbreviated memoir of their own.
Seniors are 17-18 years old, so I do not have the same concerns about censorship due to topic or language. Since independent reading is a matter of choice, I am comfortable offering some of the more “mature” texts. This year, there are several new titles I will be offering to students as independent choice books this fall since I have found 5-6 copies of each of the following:
Ambulance Girl by Jane Stern-$11.16/paperback at Amazon: “Ambulance Girlis the absorbing true story of how and why Jane Stern, a depressed and anxious borderline agoraphobic, decides to become an Emergency Medical Technician.” ($55.80 for 5 new copies versus $5 for 5 used copies)
Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress by Susan Jane Gilman – $11.19/paperback at Amazon: “Gilman has a gift for showing the humor in the ordinary. Her memoir takes readers from her childhood in the late 1960s and early ’70s through adulthood and marriage.” ($55.95 for 5 new copies versus $5 for 5 used copies)
Beautiful Boy by David Sheff- $9.60/paperback at Amazon: “Sheff chronicles his son’s downward spiral into addiction and the impact on him and his family. A bright, capable teenager, Nic began trying mind- and mood-altering substances when he was 17. In months, use became abuse, then abuse became addiction.”
($48.00 for 5 new copies versus $5 for 5 used copies)
Total savings of including offering used titles versus new? $144.75
These new titles will be placed alongside the other titles I have already collected in the used book market including:
Lucky by Alice Sebold
Lost in Place and Iron and Silk by Mark Salzman
Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs
Zippy by Haven Kimmel
This Boy’s Life by Tobias Wolff
The Liar’s Club by Mary Karr
A Million Little Pieces by James Frey (Yes, I know….a discredited memoir, but some students like this gritty story)
The Tender Bar by J. R. Moehringer
The other book used during the course is Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt. There are already 60 copies in the bookroom that were purchased new. I could always add extra copies because there are always copies of this title on used book tables and shelves. Students are also free to choose another memoir from the school library if they want.
I give students some time to choose a book, so I need to have copies available for them to try. When a student lingers over a text on the shelf, I’ll say, “Try it…you might like it!”