Reading Is Good; But Are Books Now Too Old-fashioned?

In a frighteningly few number of days, classes will start for the next academic year. It’s frightening because I have so much to do: prepare for classes, write some committee reports I was supposed to do at the conclusion of the preceding academic year (a.k.a. during the summer), and all the family activities my wife thought were necessary during summer before losing me to work again.

In my first lecture for each of the classes I teach, I tell my students some personal information about myself such as my favorite author (J. K. Rowling), the ages of my children (currently 10, 7.8, and 6), and my favorite book on parenting: Parenting with Love and Logic by Foster Cline and Jim Fay.

Another child-development-related book which I like is The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease. I enjoy points in it such as the following:

  • “Computers are incredibly fast, accurate, and stupid; humans are incredibly slow, inaccurate, and brilliant; together, they are powerful beyond imagination. — Albert Einstein” (Of course we all enjoy this point.)
  • “Comic books are a frequent childhood choice of people who grow up to become fluent readers.” (Can you guess why I enjoy this point?)
  • “The Harry Potter books have inspired millions of kids to read seven-hundred-page books.” (;-)
  • “When children are watching television, closed-captioning should be activated along with sound. [...] Reasonable doses of captioned television can do no harm, and most likely it can help greatly with reading.”
  • “Every year McDonald’s spends more money on advertising than it did the previous year, which comes to more than $1 million per day. Its marketing people never think, ‘Everyone has heard our message. They should be coming to us on their own, instead of spending all this money on advertising.’ Every time we read aloud to a child or class, we’re giving a commercial for the pleasures of reading.”
  • “Make sure your children see you reading for pleasure.”

The book that I’ve been reading recently for pleasure (in front of my children) is Dave Barry Turns 50 (by Dave Barry). Some of this book’s points which I enjoy are as follows:

  • “When you turn 50, [...] you can’t read anything. [...] Actually, this started happening to me when I was 48; I started noticing that when I tried to read restaurant menus, they looked like this:

    E n t r e e s
    Broasted free-range fennel shootlets with modules of prawn — $19
    Pecan-encrusted apricot-glazed garlic-enhanced shank of frog — $27
    Liver ‘en Fester’ dans une bunce de creme de corne — $21

    At first I thought that this had nothing to do with me — that, for some reason, possibly to save ink, the restaurants had started printing their menus in letters the height of bacteria; all I could see was little blurs.”

  • “Let’s say you’re a customer-service representative, and you’re on the phone with a typical member of the public, by which I mean an individual who has the cognitive powers of celery.”

Dave Barry makes a lot of interesting points. OK, I’ll be more honest: Dave Barry makes a lot of very entertaining points. But really, part of what makes such humorous material so captivating is that it actually contains a lot of truths. (For further, more CS-relevant examples of humor containing truths, look at some of the cartoons of or, e.g. or My development of presbyopia strikingly paralleled what Dave Barry described, including starting at age 48 and initially appearing to me to be occasional odd situations (e.g. once I couldn’t read a street map and I thought it was because the light was too dim) rather than age-related deterioration of my body.

But besides some humor and truths that Dave Barry uncovers, what’s on my mind is the question of how old-fashioned I may be at age 50, considering that I’m supposed to teach modern Computer Science. There are many aspects to this question; but in this posting, I’m focusing on the topic of books. How appropriate is it to require physical textbooks for our courses? Or, from the perspective of a developer versus a user, how appropriate is it to write such?

Here’s an email which a student sent to me a few days ago:

Hello, I am scheduled to be in your class and I wanted to verify that I need to get a book for class and that the book I have listed is correct.

I am asking because first semester last year I bought a $150 book I didn’t need so I waited for classes in the winter semester and I ended up not needing any books although all of the classes listed them.

I list “Digital Design & Computer Architecture” as the book needed for your class.

Thank you and I look forward to getting the semester started!

[a student]

And here’s the response that I sent to this student:

Hello [...],

In this modern era, you may as well not buy the textbook listed for this course. In lectures I generally present most of the information that you need to do the homework, and you can probably look up anything else you need online.

See you in a few weeks.

Prof. McGuire

What are your thoughts regarding requiring physical textbooks for courses these days?


P.S. There are actually a lot of issues involving things mentioned above that are worth discussing. For example, I mentioned “lectures”; well, how appropriate are such these days, versus ‘flipping’ classes?

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>