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A banner slogan you can find on pretty much any college campus at the end of each semester, but most especially in May, when the kids are heading home from class. Part of a yearly ritual in which campus bookstores across the country offer to buy back -- at a huge discount -- the very same books they sold just four months earlier to the eager young minds of tomorrow. If you walk by the bookstore, or through any common courtyard on campus, you’re likely to see lines of students taking the bookstores up on their offer, lugging huge stacks of books -- some of them well-worn, some with the spines intact -- up to a fold-out card table manned by smiling clerks, complete with a cash register and debit card machine.

Now, as for myself, I never sold books back when I was in school. Not when I was an undergrad, not in grad school, not law school. Looking back on it, I can think of two reasons I might have had for this aberrant behavior.

  • First, it offended my sensibilities to sell a book that I’d bought for, say, $150, back to the bookstore for $50, if I was lucky. And when it was just four months after I’d bought it new, no less.

  • Second, I always had a vague feeling that I might be able to use my books at some point in the distant future. I wasn’t sure how I was going to use them, exactly, but it always seemed like they’d come in handy for something.
  • There is a third possible reason, but I’m fairly certain it didn’t come into play for me. Some people – my father is a clear example – like having a set of pretty books to put on their bookshelves, because they look nice. With my father, it was the Harvard Classics, or, as they were originally known, Dr. Eliot’s Five Foot Shelf. The idea was that one could obtain a well-rounded liberal education by reading from a set of books, admittedly Eurocentric, that could fit on a bookshelf that was, you guessed it, five feet long. My father got a set when I was young and promptly put them up on the bookshelf.

    But I never saw him read a single one of them. He just put them on the shelf and forgot about them. Which is really ironic, because my father wound up being one of the three authors (the science guy) of a book called the Dictionary of Cultural Literacy.

    So now, when it comes to keeping books around, whether they be school books, law books, or book sets for show, like the Harvard Classics, the wisdom of my advancing years has helped me see very clearly the errors of my youth. I have never used a book from college since I graduated. Not once. I was a physics and economics major, so most of my books were entry- or mid-level texts that quickly became useless to me as my knowledge of the subject matter increased. In grad school, we didn’t even use textbooks. We read journal articles, instead. I eventually found out that even my pretty law books were of little to no use once I started private practice – the wide but shallow approach adopted in most textbooks just doesn’t get you very far in real life.

    And that’s how I ended up with a ton of old books I didn’t want, and couldn’t sell. So my advice, if you're still in school? Sell Your Books. Now, while they’re still worth something. Oh, you can ignore this advice if you’re a literature or art history major, you know, someone who has books they might actually want to read again later in life. But otherwise, take the Ca$h now.

    You can use the money to do something new, like going to see a play you haven’t seen before, or getting the new novel by that author you like. You know, something educational.

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