I live about a mile from the Barne & Noble bookstore, the official bookstore for Louisiana State University. Yesterday, I walked over for a cup of hot chocolate at the bookstore's Starbucks coffee shop.
While the barista was constructing my cocoa (a laborious business), I contemplated the murals above the counter. Overhead, I saw some of the great English-language authors: Faulkner, Hardy, Joyce, Kipling, Melville, Nabakov, Shaw, Whitman, and others.
I found myself wondering whether Barnes & Noble sold any books by the authors who are celebrated at Starbucks. It is a college bookstore, after all.
So I went upstairs to the store's tiny "fiction and literature" section and looked for works by these famous writers. Most of them I couldn't find: no Kipling, no Nabakov, no Whitman.
I did see some comic books, however, in a section titled "graphic novels." And I saw a hell of a lot of $20 LSU T-shirts, $70 LSU sweatshirts, and hundreds of LSU ballcaps, selling for $25 a pop.
I also saw $9 LSU wine glasses and $27 LSU waterbottles. And I saw a pile of stuffed animals depicting Mike, the LSU tiger mascot.
In fact, as I scanned both floors of LSU's bookstore, I realized that Barnes & Noble's campus address isn't a bookstore at all; it's a T-shirt shop. Yes, it sells some textbooks in an obscure corner, but most of the space is dedicated to overpriced souvenirs.
I am not saying LSU students should be reading the authors who are memorialized at the Starbooks coffee shop. I've read some Faulkner, some George Bernard Shaw, some of Henry James's excruciatingly dull novels. In my opinion, students can skip all that.
But I find it unsettling to see LSU students swiping their credit cards to buy exorbitantly priced junk and $5 lattes. Why? Because I know many of these students are purchasing that stuff with their student-loan money.
If these students graduate and can't find good jobs--and many of them won't--what will be their best option? For millions, it will be to sign up for a 25-year income-based repayment plan. That's a high price to pay for an LSU T-shirt.