Round-Up: Robert Pirsig, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and Open-Source Textbooks

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motorcycle riding through desert road

From the passing of Robert Pirsig to new initiatives to benefit college students, here’s the latest literary news:

  • Robert M. Pirsig, author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, passed away on April 24 at eighty-eight years old. After being influenced by East Asian philosophy while stationed abroad, Pirsig pursued degrees in philosophy and journalism at the University of Minnesota. In 1968, Pirsig and his son Christopher traveled across the western United States on a motorcycle. That trip inspired Zen, which has sold over five million copies and introduced readers to Pirsig’s Metaphysics of Quality theory. Before its release in 1974, Zen was rejected by 121 publishers.
  • Houghton Mifflin Harcourt is looking to downsize, as shown by the roughly twenty layoffs it made in its trade division on April 24. These cuts fall in line with a general downsizing trend for the company, which plans to cut between eight and ten percent of its workforce according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. HMH hasn’t commented on the exact scale of its restructuring, but a spokesperson said that the company is “taking steps to improve our operational efficiency and right-size our cost structure.”
  • Maryland and New York have introduced plans to ease college costs by introducing open-source textbooks to their state college systems. The cost of college textbooks rose by eighty-eight percent between 2006 and 2016, outpacing tuition itself. These copyright-free books are expected to save students in Maryland over one million dollars by the end of the fall 2017 semester. New York students will benefit from an eight million dollar investment in open-source materials.