The Reading Life: Textbooks Worth Keeping

I went to three different universities in three different states to get a four-year bachelor’s degree. (And it actually only took four years!) After that, I went to graduate school for two years. I’ve taken quite a few classes, purchased many textbooks*, and often neglected to sell them back at the end of the semester. Most of these books ended up being sold on Craiglist or eBay, but there are a few that I still have.

Why do I keep these textbooks around? Well, first of all, I’m a nerd. My BA is in Anthropology (with a focus on the Cultural side of things), and I still get excited by various social theories and all that. Second of all, I’m new to the post-school world. My MA is in Library and Information Studies, so keeping my library school books is actually a good idea for my professional development.

However, I think the biggest reason I keep these books is the simplest: they are interesting, well-written/-edited, and useful. I like useful things.

Without further ado, here are some textbooks that are worth keeping.

Intellectual Freedom Manual, Eighth Edition

This is a working book; if you are a librarian, you need this on your desk at all times. It contains the Library Bill of Rights and explanations of each article in that bill. Not pleasure reading, per se, but certainly useful for people in the library field. The updated Eighth Edition has a section about online social networks and patrons’ rights regarding social media. I used this book for my Intellectual Freedom class in library school.

Introduction to Physical Anthropology, edited by Robert Jurmain, Lynn Kilgore, and Wenda Trevathan

Physical anthropology, according to the authors of this textbook,  is the study of human biology within the framework of evolution and with an emphasis on the interaction between biology and culture. While it wasn’t my area of focus in undergrad, I was and continue to be interested in evolutionary studies and the physical side of anthropology. In fact, for a while there, I couldn’t decide if I wanted to be a cultural anthropologist or a primatologist (in the same vein as Jane Goodall). This text is clearly written and interesting, and it takes the reader from evolutionary theory through the legacy of human evolution. It was the text for my Human Origins class at the University of Iowa, taught by Russ Ciochon. My copy came with a CD-ROM entitled, “Basic Genetics for Anthropology: Principles & Applications.” I love the idea of “basic genetics.”

Primate Diversity, by Dean Falk

I’ll admit it: I’m that person at the zoo. You know, the person who loudly corrects people about monkeys. It’s something that irritates me to no end because it’s not that complicated. Apes include humans, gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos (which might be a subspecies of chimpanzees),

An example of a phylogenetic tree.

orangutans, and gibbons/siamangs. That’s it. I could on for days about primates, but I won’t, because most people don’t care. Anyway, Primate Diversity is a great text that I used in one of my favorite classes ever: Nonhuman Primate Social Behavior with Deborah Blom at the University of Vermont. In this class, we learned about monkeys, apes, and prosimians. We also watched a lot of videos about adorable animals. It was fantastic. This text is phenomenal; it contains lots of evolutionary trees, which is incredibly useful if you are studying relationships between animals.

Tales of the City: A Study of Narrative and Urban Life, by Ruth Finnegan

If you want to be a cultural anthropologist studying contemporary people, you will probably study narrative and how to construct someone’s story from what they tell you (and from what they leave out). This book is about a planned town in England, and how the planning of the town affected people’s lives and how they thought about the spaces in which they lived, worked, and played. Finnegan’s approach is interesting, because she includes long portions of uninterrupted narrative with no intratextual commentary. That is, she lets her subjects tell their own stories. In contrast to many other books about city life, this is an upbeat, generally positive look at how planned communities can provide a framework for social interaction. I used this text for a class called Diversity at the University of Iowa.

An Introduction to Women’s Studies: Gender in a Transnational World, edited by Inderpal Grewal and Caren Kaplan

This book is almost completely tattered to bits. It’s covered in highlighter, pen, coffee, and magic marker. I really like this book because it’s a compendium of various articles and essays by a diverse group of people, including Barbara Ehrenreich (who wrote Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America) and Stephen Jay Gould. After each essay, the editors have included definitions and key terms for further consideration. It’s an easy-to-read, solid introduction to a fascinating field. I used this text for my Introduction to Women’s Studies class at the University of Iowa.

Print Culture in a Diverse America, edited by James Danky and Wayne Wiegand

Print culture, or the social interactions that people have around the written word, is endlessly interesting to me. This book is edited by James Danky and Wayne Wiegand, who are highly respected in Library World. The essays in this volume are on topics like reading habits in rural Iowa in the late 1800s, publications for and by homeless people, and African-American literary societies. When you start to look at the culture surrounding print materials, you’ll never look at books, magazines, pamphlets, and newspapers the same ever again. I used this book in my favorite library school class of all time, the History of Books and Print Culture, with Madge Klais. My final project for that class was a paper with a racy title I would rather not print here, but it was about horror fiction published in Playboy magazine in the 1970s. It was so fun to write.

Do you have any textbooks from your university experience? Why’d you keep them?

* Let me take a minute and define how I’m using the word “textbook.” Typically, a “textbook” is a manual of instruction in one particular field, e.g. Introduction to Biology. I didn’t hold onto many of those. When I use the term “textbook,” I mean “book assigned to a college/university class that I was required to buy.” Capiche? Good.

About Amanda K

Amanda K holds a master's degree in Library and Information Studies. She's a housewife, a Planned Parenthood volunteer, a sewist, and an aspiring gourmet home cook. View all posts by Amanda K

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