Tuesday, January 19, 2010

"Of making many books there is no end"

So says the writer of Ecclesiastes. And his words are no less true today than they were when written thousands of years ago.

I have been thinking a lot about book making every since my post yesterday on "Pages" started some discussions, including about the advantages of e-reading over paper reading, the ecological impact, and so on.

I do want to say that I was only saying, in that original post, why e-reading, by and large does not work for me other than email, blogs, and other mostly shorter forms. But that's just me. And others, I know, love to e-read and that's great.

But I do feel sort of like addressing some brief thoughts about the subject. One is the whole idea of books and community. It may seem like a stretch, but to me, books have an advantage over e-reading in creating community. Here's how -- for one, when I would read on my Kindle, that book was mine and only mine. Sure, I could pass the Kindle onto someone else -- but then I couldn't read my next e-book. Whereas, when I read a good traditional book, I can pass it on -- literally. I see or think of a friend who I feel would enjoy it and take it or mail to her or him. And I receive books that way, too.

And when I am done with a book, and feel that I will never use it again for research in my writing or just plain enjoyment, I can take it and donate it to a worthy group. I can share, that way.

I am pleased that there are many books on the Internet via public domain and Google books, but there are also many that are not. And so being forced to buy them electronically adds to our consumer culture. I suppose there are libraries who have electronic versions of books that are not in the public domain, but I have yet to learn of many around here.

And, yes, I do use libraries. I have had a library card since I was 10. One of the first things I do when I move to a new town is go to the library and get a card. But that's a whole 'nother subject.

Another think I do think about is the ecological impact. And yes, McSweeney's as a literary quarterly, is rarely a source for hard news, but the article I referred to earlier ("Can a Paper Mill Save a Forest: The strange possibility that the transferring of information digitally is more environmentally destructive than printing it") was part of a special edition of the quarterly that featured hard news in the format of a newspaper. It (San Francisco Panorama) came complete with news, opinion, arts, food, sports, and comic sections. And the story I referred to was part of the news. Nicholson Baker is a keen researcher, so I read his article with more than just a passing interest.

Here I where I am going to admit that I don't know which is more ec0-friendly. I'm not that smart. And I would have to do a lot more research. But I do think that the answer is not as clear as folks on either side would make it.

I do wonder about the recyclability factor though. I think of recycling in a number of ways. The first way is the sharing I mentioned about. When I am through with a book I often pass it on. Indeed, many of the books I have purchased have found their way to other homes -- including homes of people I don't know, since many of my friends pass books along, too.

A second way is the very paper itself -- it can be recycled and used in other books. Or insulation. Or...

A third thing I think about is trees as a renewable resource. If used correctly and well.

A fourth thing that occurs to me is just how hard a time I have recycling old computers and other electronic hardware here at work. And how so much of them is plastic and potentially dangerous heavy metals that can leach into our water table.

A fifth is carbon footprint of both types of printing -- the electricity used to make paper and LCD screens, the fossil fuels used to transport them from their source of manufacture to their end user, and more.

Ah, I could probably wonder forever about this. I often do think things to death. But those are my thoughts so far.

Like I said, I don't know the answer. And I'm not sure the answer matters as much as being aware of the question and trying to live out a faithful response to it. That's what I think we are all asked to do.

-- Brent


Brent Bill said...

Amazingly, just as I finished my post, I got this from "digitalbookworld"

JAN. 26-27, 2010-New York, NY
Register Now for Digital Book World 2010
Solutions, Not Theories. Practicality, Not Punditry.
Digital Book World is all about the specific strategies consumer publishers need today to implement the right tools effectively for maximum impact today and tomorrow. Our speakers are experienced professionals and technology experts who understand the unique challenges consumer publishers face, because they deal with them every day.

This conference isn't just about strategies, though; it's also about the network. Because of our focus on consumer publishing, Digital Book World's speakers and attendees represent publishers of all sizes and niches—from Random House and HarperCollins to Tor, Chelsea Green, National Geographic and Ellora's Cave—as well as literary agents and other allied professionals, and vendors with an interest in the future of consumer publishing.


Brent Bill said...

An interesting stat from Baker's article -- In 2006 the Energy Inforamtion Administration estimated that data centers consumed 60 billion kilowatt hours (just the centers -- not wireless or fiber optic networks connecting them to end-users) and paper mills consumed 75 billion kilowatt hours. The difference is that more than half of the 75 billion was green power from renewable sources (recycled biomass).