I'm back home for less than a week before heading off for a conference abroad, so today I made a fly-by trip to the department to excavate my mailbox. Crammed up to the top of the cubbyhole were packages and packages of books. Some of them made me squeal with delight, while others (duplicate copies, style manuals) got promptly tossed on a lower shelf. And then there was the edition of Donne's poems I'd ordered for my new fall class.
Shit, I thought when I unpacked it. What the hell was I thinking?
Actually, I know what I was thinking: I was thinking that we'd be doing enough Donne to need a complete edition, but not enough that it was worth ordering the best possible text, or one with scholarly essays, or anything like that. The best possible texts, of course, tend to be more expensive, and in the interests of student budgets--and making the least amount of money purchase the greatest number of books--I chose a $10 edition with decent footnotes from a reliable publisher.
It's a perfectly good edition. The problem is that it's not an edition I've ever taught from before, and it's definitely not the ($15) edition I ordered for my upper-division class this past spring and conscientiously read through and marked up for pedagogical purposes.
Because here's the thing: like most people, I have certain texts that I teach regularly, and parts of my classroom shtick are pretty consistent from semester to semester. Sure, I may spend more or less time on a particular scene or issue, depending on the course, but some passages I talk about or have my class work through nine times out of ten--and it's useful to have my underlinings, bracketings, and brief marginal notes from all those previous classes to guide me or give me additional inspiration. (Why are those six words underlined? Oh! there's an interesting pattern of imagery there. Maybe I'll bring that up if discussion goes in the right direction. What are these little arrows for? Right! they indicate mood shifts. Etc.)
I'll also admit that I don't re-read every text every time I teach it; there's just not enough time, especially those weeks when I have two sets of essays to grade or an article deadline. I don't feel bad about this, but I don't feel bad, in part, because I'm able to rely on teaching texts that serve as their own lesson plans, mapping out my various interests and obsessions and my prior pedagogical strategies.
But even when I don't just forget the importance of sticking with the same edition, as I did in ordering the Donne volume, I seem unable to teach from the same text as reliably as I'd like: sometimes I get dissatisfied with a particular edition; sometimes it's that a revised edition is put out and I'm forced to upgrade; but just as often it's that different classes demand different editions.
For instance: I teach Paradise Lost all the damn time--I've taught the poem, either in its entirety or its majority, for the past six consecutive semesters in a total of nine different classes. And how many different texts have I taught the poem from, in those six semesters? Five. In Brit Lit I, I teach from the Norton Anthology of English Literature--first in its seventh and now its eighth edition. In my Milton seminar at Big Urban, I used the Hughes Complete Poems and Major Prose. Not totally satisfied with that, for my Milton seminar at RU I switched to the Riverside Milton. And then for my upper-division class this past spring, I needed, for the first time ever, a single-volume edition of Paradise Lost, so I ordered the Norton.
It was a busy spring. And I'd just re-read PL the previous semester (and taught it in considerably greater detail). So more days than not, I found myself at my desk, in the 30 minutes before class, just copying my markings--squiggly line for squiggly line, boxed bit for boxed bit, marginal comment for marginal comment--from one of the various other editions spread out before me.
I ain't proud. But I sure wish I had a scriptorium to do it for me.