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Thursday, December 16, 2010

It’s Official: We’re Downsizing Our Environmental Footprint

There, did I get your attention? I think my headline makes a true statement, although there are many factors to consider in comparing the two scenarios: highway miles vs. home heating bills, motel nights vs. driveway plowing, etc. Do you see where I’m going with this? Yes, our pack is staying in Michigan this winter rather than fleeing for the sunshine of Florida, a decision we made over the weekend after considering it for almost five minutes.

Believe it or not, we are experiencing great relief and anticipation over the change in plan. Sound crazy? Well, for starters we won’t have to close up our house and pack for three months and worry about getting our mail. We don’t have to face that long drive and all those meals on the road. I won’t be fretting over not being able to let Sarah off her leash for a good run but having to walk her on a busy highway with a narrow shoulder for three months. And finally, we won’t be leaving behind all our dear Michigan friends.

True, we’ll have to deal with cold and snow, but we’ll have the Up North comradeship of others facing the same challenges. Besides, we’ve gotten through long, hard, cold, serious Michigan winters before. And it’s only one week now until the shortest day of the year, so how hard will it be for us to travel once more from winter solstice to vernal equinox under northern skies, hunkered down on home ground?

Here’s the plan: I’ll be at the bookstore three days a week—Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Bruce will cover Wednesday. Bookstore hours from Wednesday through Saturday will be 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and we’ll be closed Sunday through Tuesday.

One thing our staying means for Dog Ears Books customers is that I will, after all, be able to fill special requests over the winter for new books (all you have to do is get those requests to me in person, by phone or by e-mail), and what the shortened week means is that I’ll process orders on Monday or Tuesday so deliveries arrive on Thursday or Friday. What it means for the blog is that I’ll probably cut down to a couple of posts a week.

And now, back to the present. Wednesday was a busy day on “Books in Northport,” with more visitors than ever to the blog, though not many left comments. The unusual activity was due to “Shelf Awareness” having picked up part of my Dec. 9 post, “I Am Not a Luddite,” for their “Quotation of the Day.” Ah, fame! The fleeting aspect of its nature is probably as much blessing as curse, in this case because quotations by their very nature are lifted out of context, and the only comment I had from the SA link was, I fear, a response only to the quote rather than to the entire piece.

So I’d like to take a moment here to clarify and amplify my thinking about new physical books, which is where I think most if not all of the environmental argument needs to be directed. The book I’m currently reading was a new book when it was first published in 1940. How many people have read this copy before it came into my hands? That is the defense for used books, but doesn’t it naturally carry over into new books? That is, does anyone buy a new book planning to read it once and throw it in the trash (or, in the case of paperbacks, recycling bin)?

Here are some of the various fates met by books purchased new:

➢ They become part of the purchaser’s permanent home library, read by other family members and passed on to children.
➢ They are read and passed along to a friend or relative.
➢ They are read and donated to a library, usually going into the library’s next sale.
➢ They are read and donated to a thrift shop or other charitable organization.
➢ They are read and brought back to a bookstore as used books.

Have I left anything out? My point is that a new book quickly becomes a used book, and therefore the Life Cycle Analysis of a new book must take into account these multiple lives! The same cannot be said of an e-book, the “purchase” (really, rental) of which rules out sharing and passing on.

Again, I also see (1) the development and use of new materials to replace paper and (2) the abolition of returns as taking care of most of the very legitimate objections to resource use and waste involved in printed books. I feel bad enough about the four strings of Christmas tree lights I bought last year and the year before, all of which are now dead as doornails. Electronic waste is a nightmare! Do we really want to make that mountain grow faster?

When it comes to reading, this moment in history is a time for decision. Different readers will decide in different directions, and eventually the results will get sorted out. Another fascinating and exceedingly complex issue of print books vs. e-books has to do with human brains. If you are interested in this tangled nest of question, knowledge and speculation, here's a site where different experts bring to the table diverse points of view on the books-and-brains issue. Fascinating! You'll want to read the whole thing, including all the comments, which themselves range all over the map in terms of likes and dislikes.

It occurs to me here that I should add a personal note to my new correspondents out in the wilds of New South Wales. Dear Grahame and Kathy, if it makes sense for anyone to download e-books to read on a screen, it makes sense for you! It’s kind of the way I think about snowmobiles: there are places where they are appropriate transportation. I hope this analogy makes sense to folks who live where there is no snow!

Where do the rest of you stand? What do you like and dislike about the different ways of reading? Are you ready to make and own a decision?


Anonymous said...

I am Happy that you are staying close..selfish? a bit..

Anonymous said...

Years ago in a study I did for a client, I learned that people who read on a screen do so at a much, much slower rate than when they read on paper. Recently, I was told by a nephew who had just purchased a Kindle that its screen was quite different from a computer screen and far more readable.

Regardless of efficiency, I'm all for the paper variety. They smell nice, you can tuck notes and bookmarks into them, scribble in them and you can even *dog ear* them :)

P. J. Grath said...

Dear Anonymous, whoever you are--thank you for valuing our company so highly that our presence is a selfish gain for you!

Amy-Lynn, so many issues, so many changes happening so fast! How can I escape the modern world if not by curling up with a book?

Gerry said...

OK, so, if we're going to be up here all winter, I figure we ought to be able to plan a nice coffee somewhere. Call it a Business Meeting. Call it Mental Health Maintenance.

I don't care where I read things so long as I can still read, but I think I'm most physically comfortable reading paper books. For most of my life I read library books almost exclusively. Then there was a period when I bought new books. The luxury! Now there has been a lengthening period when I re-read the new books I bought, which are no longer new, strictly speaking, and ponder how to recycle them as is proper.

But always reading.

ali g said...

Hi Pamela
After reading your blog of 30 November I put you into my 'favourites' on the computer and have been checking each day awaiting a new blog. Each time I clicked it went back to 30/11 and have been thinking..Pamela hasn't done another one yet..
So today The more intelligent one in this household [Kathy] typed in your site and lo & behold...11 new blogs since 30/11....
So... I've just printed all of them out for us to take to & read in bed tonight.
Will give our 'Kindles' a rest for the evening.
Now cracking a chardonnay

Dawn said...

When I was in grad school a couple of years ago I was introduced to the thought that these days are a time of "information revolution" not unlike the industrial revolution of many years ago. That while you're living it you might not recognize all the major shifts in the world as we know (and knew) it. But that many years down the line people will look back at our times and wonder at all the changes that took place in a relatively short period of time in the way we used and stored information much as we look back at the times when machines took over much of the work of horses and people.

I've read books in both formats. And for me each has a place. I love the feel of a real book...but when I travel it's nice to have many books stored in a small space. Some libraries now are "lending" an ebook to people with readers...they download them, have a certain number of days or weeks and then it disappears, ready to download to someone else.

It's complicated, this decision, and there are far-reaching effects some of which I'm sure we don't consider or even begin to recognize now.

As with all decisions, I think the paper book v.s. the electronic version decision will evolve for most people. Some will try ebooks and go back to paper, some will never try, some will fall in love. And some, like me, will try to have it both ways.

P. J. Grath said...

Gerry, how about Another Cuppa Joe at Building 50 in Traverse City? That is our #1 favorite in-town coffee venue these days. Maybe some day that David’s on duty at the ADN Gallery downtown, you and I can have our meeting—or, as they say, “take” a meeting. (???)

Grahame, I have done the same thing. What happened was that you bookmarked a specific post rather than the general address of the blog. Now you have it straightened out, though, and won’t have to print out reams of paper the next time! The big blow I struck for freedom during the past year was—I don’t have a printer at all. It always was, IMO, the weak link in the chain. Now, if something’s really, really important, I e-mail it to a friend whose husband prints it out for me. That’s about three times a year. I print my photographs out at a store and get much better quality. The savings in frustration AND paper and ink has been enormous!

Dawn, one of our friends with an e-reading device says he uses it only to read the New York Times. Another very sensible place for e-texts is scientific and other scholarly journals, don’t you think? I’ve been reading articles in the New York Review of Books (print form) about the UNBELIEVABLE subscription costs of journals to libraries. I really mean those full caps, too. And funny, I hadn’t thought of libraries loaning e-books, but that makes sense: the patrons would never lose them or forget to return them on time!

There, y’all, you see I am not totally close-minded or intransigent. One of my favorite books in the world is Bruce Catton’s memoir WAITING FOR THE MORNING TRAIN, with its theme of change coming at us faster than we can adapt to it. This little bookseller is doing her best to sort things out, but Dawn is right—this time will look very different in retrospect. For the present, I will be sticking with my bound, printed books, and that’s what I’ll offer my customers, but one reason to go on living, I’ve always thought, is to see what happens next. So interesting, isn’t it?!

Karen Casebeer said...

Good morning, Pamela...It's great to hear that you're going to be around this winter. I think you'll find it's not so bad to stick around, although one does have to travel a bit further to find a good meal out at times.

As for the e-book discussion, I think it's really important to not get into an "either-or" position on this topic. We didn't stop listening to the radio when we got television, for example. As a technology geek, I LOVE my iPad. I use it for many things: reading my favorite photography blogs through an RSS reader, playing games, putting together puzzles, and yes, reading books too. The books I have on my iPad are mostly books I don't necessarily want to keep in my book collection. They are often books I read for the library book group and books I read for pure fun. I also have a few manuals on my iPad, such as my Microsoft Word manual. These books take up a lot of bookshelf space and I have them on my iPad for quick reference. I especially love my iPad for reading in bed at night. It's back-lit so I don't have to use a reading light to read comfortably. My iPad is wonderful too when I travel to visit family downstate, as it takes up little room in my bags. I also like that I can try out a sample chapter from a book before I buy it. My library has had way too many purchases of books that I thought looked good on the exterior, but upon beginning to read them, didn't suit my taste. One part I especially love about my iPad reader is that I can quickly satisfy my occasional wish for instant gratification. You know, those times when you finish a book at 7:30 pm on Sunday night, and have a whole evening ahead of you with no books on hand, and no library or bookstore is open. For those times, I can immediately download a few samples and soon be into another book choice. Is my iPad a perfect reading device? Well, no. I dislike not being able to share my iPad books with another person. I dislike not being able to mark up these books, as I often do when I'm learning new photography techniques through reading photography books, which I still buy in hard copy version. Since I buy hard copy versions of many books, I find it much easier to go back and reference something I want to re-read. I've found that, even though I can highlight passages on my iPad reader, it's difficult to go back and reference these highlighted passages, especially when in a discussion with others who have a hard copy version of the book. So for me, it's not an "either-or" choice. I love both my iPad reader and the hard copy versions of books that I read. My iPad reader has not diminished my love of books or reading; in fact, in many ways it had enhanced my ability to find an enjoyable book whenever I want one.

P. J. Grath said...

Karen, thanks for sharing your likes and dislikes in such detail. It gives me a better picture of where you are in your reading life. I guess part of why I like real books is the same reason I prefer to read aloud to David (and have him read to me) rather than listening to audio books: I feel more in control of when to start and stop, able to lay the book aside for hours or even days or weeks, confident that it will be waiting for me when next I want it. Funny that you should mention beginning a book and not liking it as a reason for reading e-books, as I read someone else's blog where she said just the opposite--that when she'd bought a real book and didn't want to finish it, she could pass it along to someone else who might like it better, whereas with the e-book she was just out the price!

My bottom line is not total opposition, I hope you realize, but my decision for the bookstore and for myself is to stick with printed, bound books.

Winter? I've probably spent more winters in Michigan than anywhere else and have been through some doozies! Kind of looking forward to the challenge, after two years of "soft" winter sunshine down South.