The thunder said, “That costs too much.”

I was trolling the iTunes app store yesterday and saw the new iPad edition of T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land.” It’s a true e-book, featuring video clips, interviews, and more. Here’s the bulleted list:

  • A powerful filmed performance of the entire poem by Fiona Shaw, synchronised to the text
  • Complete audio readings of the poem, also synchronised to the text, by T. S. Eliot himself, Alec Guinness, Ted Hughes, and Viggo Mortensen
  • Comprehensive interactive notes to guide the user through the poem’s many references
  • Over 35 expert video perspectives on the poem, filmed in partnership with BBC Arena, including contributions from Seamus Heaney and Jeanette Winterson
  • Original manuscript pages revealing how the poem took shape under Ezra Pound’s editing

And while it looked interesting, the budget is simply too tight this summer for a $14 multimedia exploration of a poem I’ve studied on my own and in classrooms many times. (Did you know April is the cruelest month? True dat.) But it made one thing clear: My hopes that the tablet computer might ease my textbook bill when Kate gets to college are well and truly dashed. The $85 psych 101 textbook will no doubt be the $120 e-textbook by 2015. All that will be reduced is the weight in her backpack.

One of my partners in is married to a textbook salesman, and I asked her once why they’re so goddamn expensive. (Don’t get me started on net weight; I could work up a sweat bench-pressing Kate’s algebra book this year.) The short answer: Because they contain a lot of expensive material that has to be licensed from the content creator — photos and research and the like. The ink and paper isn’t all that much in the grand scheme of things. In e-book, true e-book publishing, that money will go to pay Fiona Shaw and Viggo Mortensen, I guess.

Still, Laura Miller says the… app? e-book? is a huge creative success, for a number of reasons:

First, “The Waste Land” is difficult; even T.S. Eliot acknowledged this in 1922, when he decided to publish notes along with the poem. Touch Press’ version comes with even more notes (by B.C. Southam), illuminating the complex web of literary allusions in those immortal 434 lines. The usual titles at the top of e-book bestseller lists don’t call for this sort of exegesis. There’s not much call to dig deeper unless the book in question has some depth. I don’t really need anyone to help me read a Stieg Larsson thriller, and I don’t plan to be ruminating on it much once I’m done.

… Instead, the people willing to shell out a premium for “The Waste Land” app are more likely to be older, the sort who feel they could have gotten a lot more out of the poem in college if they’d only been a little less distracted by the temptations that assail freshman English majors. Eliot’s poem is a bit daunting, but undeniably powerful, I told myself when a group of friends arranged a staged reading several years ago. I wish I knew it better, now that I’m more able to grasp its nuances. A new edition often provides the occasion for such revisits, which is one reason why publishers keep commissioning new translations of “Inferno” and “Madame Bovary.”

Sounds like I’m the target demographic. Too bad my classes were canceled this term and I have less spending money.

Which reminds me: I need to get to work. Fer real. I’m late today because I was editing a student intern’s report of a lively city council meeting last night. He mentioned the city’s contribution to “the Divine Plan Foundation.” I stared at this for a minute or two, tried to call him (no luck), then called the city manager, who gently explained it was the defined plan under consideration, i.e., the pension obligation.

Sometimes there isn’t enough coffee in the world.

I have no bloggage of note today, do I? No, I have this:

My friend Lance Mannion on David Mamet and his much-ballyhooed turn to the right.

And now, must run. Kate forgot her Spanish textbook for the turn-in today, so I’ll take the opportunity to cycle over there. While hefty, it’s still manageable.

Be good, all.

Posted at 10:40 am in Popculch |

48 responses to “The thunder said, “That costs too much.””

  1. LAMary said on June 15, 2011 at 11:02 am

    My college student son searches the internet for used copies of the textbooks he needs. He got a math book this semester for 3.89 rather than 75.00. In two years we have not had any problems with this method. In fact, we found a source for 18 copies of an anthology required for an English class, bought all the copies, and sold them (at cost) to his classmates. The college bookstore will also buy back your books and give you credit towards your next purchase, but what they pay is pretty low.

    495 chars

  2. Connie said on June 15, 2011 at 11:02 am

    I would buy something like that if it were Eliot’s Prufrock. Or more correctly “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” I took a college poetry class in which most of our time was spent on Prufrock. And now I notice and recognize the many references to and quotes from Prufrock in news, modern fiction, and other places, attributed or not.

    So next time you are listening to NPR and someone says “the evening is spread against the sky like a patient etherized upon a table” think Prufrock. My NPR count for that one line is up to five. Or “in the room the women come and go talking of Michelangelo”, “do I dare to eat a peach”, “I grow old … I grow old … I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.”

    I will close with this, for the entire thing see:

    Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
    I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
    I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

    I do not think that they will sing to me.

    I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
    Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
    When the wind blows the water white and black.

    We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
    By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
    Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

    1311 chars

  3. Connie said on June 15, 2011 at 11:04 am

    As a former college book store employee responsible for the used book end of things here is the deal.

    The college bookstore will pay you 50% of retail if the book is going to be used for a class next semester. They will sell it to you for 75% of retail. If it is not going to be used for a class the bookstore will give you whatever they can sell it to a wholesale distributor for. It can be worth your while to wait to sell, if for example, a book is only used in fall semester.

    485 chars

  4. nancy said on June 15, 2011 at 11:06 am

    Yes, that’s comforting to know, LAMary. In my year at Michigan, I noticed the “course pack,” i.e., a bound bundle of photocopies, was the default in many English classes. The textbook buyback is one of the great scams of the college experience, as I recall. I also remember that when Ohio State’s campus exploded in rioting, in 1970, the very first storefront to have a garbage can launched through the window was Long’s Bookstore. Don’t tell me that wasn’t payback for buyback.

    478 chars

  5. John C said on June 15, 2011 at 11:16 am

    Apologies to serious poetry lovers. But mention of The Waste Land put me in mind, as it always does, of the comedy bit my college roommate had memorized, and often recited, occasionally to beatnik bongos:

    Let us go then, Barney and I
    As the Bedrock sun spread out against the sky,
    Like a bronto burger, laid out upon a table.
    I am not Joe Rockhead,
    Nor do I pretend to be;
    Merely a stone quarry worker,
    Willing to bowl a frame or two

    I grow old
    I grow old
    Shall I wear my saber-toothed tiger suit

    Shall I prepare bronto ribs to eat? Power a car with my feet?
    I hear Pebbles and Bam Bam saying each to each
    And in the cave women come through
    Speaking of the Great Gazoo




    731 chars

  6. John C said on June 15, 2011 at 11:17 am

    By the way, I think college text books cost so much because, like college tuition, people will pay.

    99 chars

  7. Jim G said on June 15, 2011 at 11:21 am

    John C: That’s why e-books are only going to increase the cost of textbooks. There’s no such thing as a used e-book.

    117 chars

  8. Julie Robinson said on June 15, 2011 at 11:24 am

    You can ask the prof if significant changes have been made from the last edition; usually these are available for much less. Sometimes the college library has the books available to use in the library itself. Our son was in a small department with the same people in almost every class and they did a lot of book sharing.

    The newest textbook scam is the inclusion of CD-roms in the book that can only be loaded onto one computer. But, in Matt’s music theory class the prof gave Youtube links for the required listening. That saved everyone from buying the five CD set that accompanied the textbook.

    604 chars

  9. Sherri said on June 15, 2011 at 11:36 am

    I do a lot of scouring the web for used copies of the high school textbooks my daughter uses, because of the weight and space issue. The textbooks are huge, plus half of her classes require her to keep a 2.5 inch binder of notes for that class alone. I can buy used copies of her textbooks so she doesn’t have to take them back and forth, or I can replace her backpack when it splits and deal with the back issues from lugging it all. Fortunately, high schools don’t change textbooks that often, so I can usually get a pretty good deal.

    536 chars

  10. Linda said on June 15, 2011 at 11:36 am

    Re: Mamet. You can tell that a political or social movement is ripening into rottenness when people who wish to be thought daringly contrarian embrace it, because it means that those people think they will get props for the daringness, when in fact it would have been truly daring 30 years ago. Now he is just a brain-dead camp follower with pretenious delusions. As someone who is waiting for America to smarten up, this is reassuring. So thanks, Mamet.

    458 chars

  11. moe99 said on June 15, 2011 at 11:39 am

    John C: That made my morning!! Thanks ever so much.

    53 chars

  12. Connie said on June 15, 2011 at 12:25 pm

    John C, love the Bedrock version of Prufrock.

    45 chars

  13. prospero said on June 15, 2011 at 12:26 pm

    T. S. could sling the shit. He He was ridculousy good,Are we joking. Mamet is one contrarian asshole, not remotely wirth saving, just an asshole with a foul mouth, A major league dickhead.

    191 chars

  14. moe99 said on June 15, 2011 at 12:38 pm

    Doghouse Riley is also good today:

    It’s all good, but this paragraph is a fave:

    Because I could swear that the only difference between the hidebound Republican party of 1981 and the hidebound Republican party of today is that the former had a Living Saint as its titular head, and so could cut a few backroom deals–and raise taxes a dozen times–to keep its ass out of a sling. Seems to me like the problems the Republican party faces now–they’re of their own making, Dave–stem from thirty years of failure of its Divinely-inspired solutions, which failures have been met, in each and every instance, by a conviction that doing what it was doing except A LITTLE LOUDER was just the ticket. So that now you can’t mention tax reform, you can’t mention real Defense cuts, you can’t mention putting the culture war on simmer. That’s the rigidity of the man recently placed in handcuffs. As for Democratic rigidity, well, I suppose we could reclassify jellyfish as vertebrates, if that makes your column work.

    I’m thinking H.L. Menken at this point.

    1153 chars

  15. ROGirl said on June 15, 2011 at 12:49 pm

    I made the mistake of not returning some books in the allotted book buy back period when a semester finished last year. When I tried to sell them back after the following semester the bookstore wouldn’t buy them back because new editions of those books had been released. No online book buying and selling sites would buy them back either. I would have gotten maybe $10 or $15 per book, had paid $115 for one (used price) and $80 for the other.

    444 chars

  16. Jolene said on June 15, 2011 at 12:55 pm

    On Facebook, Roger Ebert posted that Mamet thinks he’s become a conservative, but he’s really just become an old man saying, “Hey, kids! Get off my Lawn.” David Ulin, of the LA Times, is similarly dismissive. He really does sound like a mean, old crank, and his political thinking seems to be about 10% more complex than that of Ted Nugent. You know a person is not cooking w/ gas intellectually when they cite Thomas Sowell, an ostensible economist whom no self-respecting economist would bother to have lunch with, much less read what he writes.

    667 chars

  17. nancy said on June 15, 2011 at 12:59 pm

    And “Redbelt” — a post-conversion work — sucked.

    50 chars

  18. alex said on June 15, 2011 at 1:03 pm

    and his political thinking seems to be about 10% more complex than that of Ted Nugent

    [coffee on my screen and keyboard]

    130 chars

  19. Mark P. said on June 15, 2011 at 1:34 pm

    “Because they contain a lot of expensive material that has to be licensed from the content creator — photos and research and the like.”

    I don’t believe that, at least not for many subjects like math or the sciences. I suspect something else is going on, and I suspect that it has something to do with making more money.

    324 chars

  20. Jolene said on June 15, 2011 at 1:45 pm

    I suspect something else is going on, and I suspect that it has something to do with making more money.

    That’s at least part of the deal. I used to know someone who’d written a popular text for introductory psychology classes, and it’s not something you can do once. After a couple years, the publishers want a new edition. Of course, she wanted to produce new editions too, but might have been satisfied with doing so every three or four years.

    It really is an enormous amount of work to produce such a text. An book for an intro course may not be deep, but it has to cover a lot of territory. A few books do very well, but, as with most endeavors, there are a lot that never pay off.

    700 chars

  21. Bitter Scribe said on June 15, 2011 at 1:59 pm

    I was infatuated with Eliot for about 15 minutes when I was a kid. Now I wonder what that was all about.

    As for Mamet, he’s always been an asshole. With his overwhelming ratio of self-confidence and self-adoration to actual knowledge, he’ll make a terrific conservative.

    273 chars

  22. mark said on June 15, 2011 at 2:09 pm

    Jolene, Why is it is not enough to disagree, without being abusively disagreeable to those who dare to hold a contrary thought. Sowell is an accomplished man, in economics and other fields, and his viewpoint is widely circulated and considered. His recent writings are admittedly mainly rehashes of earlier work, but the man is in his eighties.

    John Rawls and Robert Nozick were friends and lunched together regularly at Harvard. In their most well known writings, they each directly attacked the arguments of the other, but did so without ad hominem attack.

    616 chars

  23. Jolene said on June 15, 2011 at 2:19 pm

    Rawls and Nozick were serious scholars. Sowell has done a lot of writing, but, among professional economists, he is not respected and has not been for many years. When someone like Mamet, who is also not an economist, quotes him, he is doing so because Sowell tells a story that he agrees with–not because his analyses are regarded as truthful or insightful by those most qualified to judge.

    Some of the most respected and publicly recognized economists have been politically conservative. Indeed, economists, as a group, are generally more conservative than other students of human behavior (psychologists, sociologists, political scientists), so it is not prejudice against conservatives w/in the disciple that has kept Sowell from winning scholarly renown.

    763 chars

  24. Rana said on June 15, 2011 at 2:23 pm

    Julie touched on this, but I’ve seen the problems that come firsthand, so I thought I’d reiterate it – if anyone’s thinking of buying used textbooks, be very sure to understand what edition they are, and how it relates to the edition assigned for the class. I’ve had some students completely screwed over by having bought the wrong edition; one student had an edition once that was missing an entire section added to the revised edition, which, of course, was not discovered until the day of discussion.

    The price of textbooks is quite frustrating; the version we use in our department was chosen in part because it was cheaper than the others. As for source readers? Forget it. One useful thing about teaching intro US history is that you can find all the primary sources you want on the internet, for free, so the students need only pay for the textbook. I also find that if you can teach a course without a textbook per se (as is possible in a lot of the humanities), it’s cheaper, because trade books don’t have the same degree of cost inflation.

    However, outside the state and community colleges, I’ve noticed that a lot of professors are clueless about book cost, and don’t factor it into their selection process.

    1230 chars

  25. Jolene said on June 15, 2011 at 2:35 pm

    Barack Obama would like to have dinner with you.

    I think people do consider cost, Rana, but there’s not always a happy alternative.

    257 chars

  26. nancy said on June 15, 2011 at 2:52 pm

    I have to agree with Jolene on Thomas Sowell. I’ve linked to this before, but it gets to the heart of my Sowell problem. If nothing else, the statistics boggle the mind: He’s written 46 books? I wonder if the Hoover Institute feels it’s gotten its money’s worth out of him.

    357 chars

  27. Hattie said on June 15, 2011 at 2:56 pm

    Rip off! Go get the damn poem and read it for free.

    51 chars

  28. Connie said on June 15, 2011 at 3:02 pm

    Prufrock got mentioned on Fresh Air today, in discussion of the Woody Allen movie.

    Headline right now on Gingrich wife at center of campaign woes, sources say

    172 chars

  29. LAMary said on June 15, 2011 at 3:10 pm

    Rana, we’re always careful about the edition we buy used. The anthology book I mentioned was an older edition the teacher wanted for some reason and I’m sure that’s why we found mulitple copies.

    194 chars

  30. moe99 said on June 15, 2011 at 3:18 pm

    That’s a wonderful review of Sowell, Nancy. And it’s right, if you are going to pen a rant, at least have some spirit about it and give us a new insight or two while you are at it!

    And C’dad, apropos of yesterday’s discussion, you can add this to the ick files:

    360 chars

  31. Connie said on June 15, 2011 at 3:20 pm

    moe99: yup, ick.

    17 chars

  32. bobolink said on June 15, 2011 at 3:25 pm

    There is/was a bar in Chicago with a plaque that read “April is the cruelest month.” No, February is, and I can prove it!

    Makes me smile to remember.

    153 chars

  33. Jolene said on June 15, 2011 at 3:49 pm

    The review of Sowell’s book is, indeed, terrific.

    Let’s get my judgment of Thomas Sowell’s new book out of the way first. There is not a single interesting idea in its more than three-hundred pages.

    What an opening!

    On a happier note, I just noticed that David Von Drehle, who wrote the terrific tornado story that Nancy linked to a couple of weeks ago, has a Kindle Single* called Why They Fought: The Real Reason for the Civil War. Available for just $2.99 through the Kickback Lounge. Might not be news to the Civil War buffs here, but Von Drehle is always a great read.

    *Kindle Singles are shorter than a book and longer than a typical magazine article. This one is 26 pages. If you want to read it and don’t have a Kindle, you can download the free Kindle app to your computer.

    1001 chars

  34. Judybusy said on June 15, 2011 at 4:29 pm

    moe, that is really disgusting. I’ve often thought that there should be a way to use waste as fertilizer, but food? No thanks, I’ll pass!

    137 chars

  35. coozledad said on June 15, 2011 at 4:57 pm

    moe99: I thought Wendy’s was already using that stuff.
    Reminds me of this Zappa story:
    I was in a London club called the Speak Easy in 1967 or ’68. A member of a group called the Flock, recording for Columbia at the time, came over to me and said:

    “You’re fantastic. When I heard about you eating that shit on stage, I thought, ‘That guy is way, way out there.’ ”

    I said, “I never ate shit on stage,” He looked really depressed—like I had just broken his heart.
    For the records, folks: I never took a shit on stage, and the closest I ever came to eating shit anywhere was at a Holiday Inn buffet in Fayetteville, North Carolina, in 1973.”

    661 chars

  36. Peter said on June 15, 2011 at 5:21 pm

    But Cooz, is that so bad? My favorite John Waters quote is his take on the shit-eating scene in Pink Flamingoes: “It isn’t a crime – it isn’t even a sin. I looked it up!”

    172 chars

  37. paddyo' said on June 15, 2011 at 5:32 pm

    So, Moe99, if/when you eat it, are you required to grin?

    56 chars

  38. ROGirl said on June 15, 2011 at 5:45 pm

    I remember a poster of Frank Zappa sitting on a toilet. Maybe people conflated that act with eating shit.

    161 chars

  39. LAMary said on June 15, 2011 at 6:09 pm

    Woo Hoo. I won a Kindle as a door prize at soul killing luncheon.

    65 chars

  40. brian stouder said on June 15, 2011 at 6:37 pm

    I got a kick out of the book review on Sowell’s train of thought.

    And then, I followed this link –

    which was at the foot of that essay, and which almost directly book-ends the piece.

    And Mark, no one is being “abusively disagreeable” here; I’ve seen “abusively disagreeable”, and nothing here fits that bill.

    Now, I WILL cop to “dismissive” disagreeableness, from time to time; and, at least from up here in the cheap seats, it seems to me that the fickle finger of dismissive disagreeable fate gets put upon folks from all over, at nn.c. (I recall that our blogmistress had no use for Governor Granholm, for one example). This is what a good blog does, I think; although if there WAS an abundance of “abusive disagreeable” blogging or commenting going on, I would agree with you.

    Anyway – read the dismissive-disagreeable piece on Governor Palin, for an example of something I found to be pitch-perfect.

    edit: Mary, congratulations! If my lovely wife Pam is any indicator, you’re going to love that thing. I can’t get past the odd spectacle of how she “goes to the library” whenever a book she’s waiting on becomes available. Very much like the Jetsons, she plugs into the computer, and then BAM! she has it. And – she discovered that if you are running out of time to finish the book (I believe they give you three weeks), you simply keep your Kindle off your computer, and the book doesn’t go away. (but as soon as you DO go pack on the computer – poof! it’s gone)

    1593 chars

  41. LAMary said on June 15, 2011 at 6:42 pm

    I haven’t downloaded anything to the kindle yet, but just reading the user manual without reading glasses was very inspiring.

    125 chars

  42. LAMary said on June 15, 2011 at 7:24 pm

    Regarding your plan to jump on your bike and bring the Spanish book to Kate’s school, here is a story about one of the streets in my neighborhood. My street is slightly less steep, but only slightly.

    I never rode my bike to my kids’ elementary school. I walked it but the bike would have been problematic in both directions.

    382 chars

  43. Dexter said on June 15, 2011 at 7:39 pm

    Off topic…I just finished a chat session with Col. Jack Jacobs, retired, a Medal of Honor winner you may have seen on the NBC network, analyzing military situations.
    I got a few questions in and he responded; some were about military strategies and such, but I thought I would pass along what he answered was his favorite Vietnam War book: “Fortunate Son”, the memoirs of Marine Lou Puller. Any of you folks read it? I will acquire it soon.

    446 chars

  44. brian stouder said on June 15, 2011 at 7:42 pm

    Mary – talk about “mean streets”; that is one severe-assed avenue!

    I recall being in the passenger seat as Pam drove down an interstate in West Virginia, and we were on a 7% grade. We were motoring (not to say plummeting!) downhill, and approaching a curve, and she whipped out to pass a semi(!), and jumped onto the power!

    I think I (involuntarily) exclaimed something or other, as I braced myself against the dashboard(!!), and she “shushed” me.

    And that was a 7 percenter….one can only imagine how terrifying a 35% grade must be

    edit: Dexter, is he a son of “Chesty” Puller? If so, wow.

    604 chars

  45. moe99 said on June 15, 2011 at 7:57 pm

    I worked with Lew Puller at DoD General Counsel’s office back in the day. We played bridge together during lunch with a couple other attorneys. He had a homemade contraption built to hold his cards because his hands had been so mangled by the ied that took his legs, he couldn’t hold them, but he was a great bridge player. I remember he wrote an editorial in the Washington Post in 1981 or 1982 for Memorial Day where he talked about how he thought the federal government could not hurt him any worse than he’d been hurt, but then he had children. When he went through basic training at the Marines, they had to change the curriculum and take out all the Chesty Puller stories. He looked a lot like Stephen Colbert. He was an amazing guy and I was privileged to know him.

    Re: his book. I read it a long time ago and don’t have much of an impression due to the passage of time. Sorry.

    895 chars

  46. LAMary said on June 15, 2011 at 8:00 pm

    I’ll tell you, my kids learned early on how to catch a ball. If you missed, the ball was gone.

    94 chars

  47. Rana said on June 15, 2011 at 11:37 pm

    Cool news about the Kindle, LAMary. Be sure to check out the free ebooks on Amazon – a lot of the older books are on there that way (I downloaded a bunch of John Muir and Jules Verne, all free).

    195 chars

  48. Dexter said on June 16, 2011 at 12:43 am

    Thanks, moe. I had heard of the book but never took the time to read it; now I will. What a hard ending this man had.
    Here’s a 56 minute interview; moe you may want to watch it.

    225 chars