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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?