Reading is fundamental

More books!

gilliesDo you remember when Isabel Gillies’ memoir of the breakup of her marriage to a poet/professor husband, Happens Every Day, was sold at Starbucks and seemed to be everywhere else, too, if only briefly?  I read it then, as a guilty pleasure on a plane, but was pleasantly surprised by her breezy, frank, highly readable prose.  Recently ran across the follow-up, A Year and Six Seconds, at the library, and it’s even better. (It didn’t seem to get anywhere near the attention of the first, though.  Different publisher, too.)  Its style is almost naïve–there’s a lot of second-person address (“Around now, you might be thinking…”), a very informal, conversational style–it almost sounds as if it was composed aloud.  I liked it, and I’m happy that (this is not a spoiler) she ends up married to someone she sounds thrilled to be with, who is thrilled to be with her.

I’m partway through several other books at once, so I’ll save those until I either finish or decide to put them aside.

Teacher and professor friends, are desk copies still a thing?  It’s hard for me to tell, since I moved through a succession of institutions, but it seems as if the whole scene has changed, all the belts tightened.  It seems to me that it used to be that I got all the examination copies I wanted, and many that I didn’t ask for–although the greatest abundance was of composition textbooks and anthologies (the office I shared at NCC was stacked with many years’ worth of sample copies left by hopeful sales reps).  Years ago, the bookstore (at GU and the other R1 where I had a lectureship) would take your order for a desk copy when you placed your order for the books.  When I got to NLNRU, I found that they didn’t do that; although course orders were (technically) due something like eight months before the first day of classes, we were on our own for ordering desk copies, and that involved visiting different publishers’ websites and making requests via web forms or fax–the sort of thing we could sometimes ask a work-study employee to do, if there was a lull.

Now, at SA, we can order through the purchasing department or buy them on our own and get reimbursed, but as far as I can tell, the school doesn’t get free desk copies from the publishers.  Maybe they do for the really expensive hardcover textbooks, but I don’t believe I’ve gotten as much as a free novel in the whole time I’ve been here (unless you count local authors doing their own publicity).  Between new teachers in 6th, 8th, and 10th grade, and continuing teachers taking on new courses, I ordered around forty books this spring!  And yet it does look like many publishers do extend the offer of free desk copies to HS teachers if someone is willing to do the legwork.    Maybe this is a way of stretching our budget a little farther?  And why not, considering that all of our students buy books (or have books bought for them, in the case of some scholarship recipients), and many of them buy new?  (I usually get the Snork Maiden new English books, but buy used or rent most of the big textbooks.)

What got me thinking about this was receiving a mailed offer from Signet Classics for one free examination copy from one brochure, and a few other brochures offering a selection of examination copies for $2.50 or $3.00 each.  The offer of a “free” copy was too tempting to resist: I ended up ordering five books, two of which could be possible World Lit adoptions, one of which will serve as a desk copy, and one of which will let me see whether I should order the Signet Classics My Ántonia next year instead of the Penguin Classics.  (It’s a few dollars cheaper, and Signet actually belongs to Penguin, but I don’t think they’re exactly the same.  It will be good to compare.)

How are desk copies handled where you teach?  Has the process changed?


3 responses to this post.

  1. Desk copies are definitely still a thing! You just have to do the legwork. Most publishers have an online form that you fill out — easy-peasy. Some ask you to email the rep. The annoying ones require that you write a letter on letterhead and then fax/scan & email it to them. Only a couple of times have I had problems ordering as a HS teacher rather than a college professor — the last time from Folger Shakespeare Library, which surprised me, but even then I sent off a testy email and immediately received my desk copies. I hate paying for books that I’m going to use in class; it just seems wrong.


    • Posted by meansomething on June 25, 2014 at 5:56 pm

      Thanks! I just looked at the Folger page, which directed me to a Simon and Schuster page that specified “college and university addresses,” but I think I’ll give it a try. All freshmen, sophomores, and seniors buy Folger Shakespeare editions–that’s 400 or so copies a year. Even if half of those are bought used, I think S&S should be able to spare us a few desk copies!

      I know we’re lucky to have a deep enough department budget to accommodate our book needs, plus a few special events–but there’s more I’d do if I had the funds. Looking forward to reviewing this year’s expenditures and planning next year’s. I hope we won’t have to spend quite so much on new teacher copies next year, which is a way of saying I hope we won’t have to do so much hiring!


  2. Posted by Bardiac on June 28, 2014 at 4:56 pm

    I think it’s highly variable how you have to do them. At NWU, our admin assistant magically makes amazing things happen, and the books land in our mailbox. But she’s pretty magical.


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