Archive for April, 2010

Read a Book, Save a Tree

April 30, 2010

Making books kills trees.  In fact, every year, 25 million trees are massacred for our book-reading pleasure.  It might even be 30. And that’s just in the US.  So you might think that e-books and e-readers would be the greener choice.  And you would be wrong.

Environmental impact.  It’s about more than trees.  It’s about everything that happens in making, using and disposing of any object, blue jeans to jelly beans.   And when the beans have all been counted, books come out ahead.

First, there is material extraction: collecting the stuff to make the object.  According to a recent article in The New York Times, making one e-reader takes 33 pounds of minerals.   This includes the rare mineral columbite-tantalite used in many electronics, and whose mining in eastern Congo has been funding an ugly war.   A physical book requires 2/3 pound of minerals (mostly gravel for the roads it gets shipped on).  It takes 79 gallons of water to make an e-reader; a book needs only 2. (more…)

Slow Book Movement, Rule #3

April 24, 2010

Um...a book?

Things were recently looking pretty bleak for my quixotic project, saving books from e-xtinction.  During the grand Denver confab known as The AWP, I sat across an early breakfast of hash-browns and oeufs over-easy with my favorite editor Dawn Marano.   She, too, lamented the advent of you-know-whats and the possible future disappearance of Books.  And for a moment, I felt cheered!  An ally!  But then she said she’d already been through her stages of grief, and now that she’s made it all the way to acceptance, she’s bought the e-reader whose name starts with a K.   To my ears that K thing always sounds like the little twigs you set fire to just before the logs really catch, and that little piece of news started a little conflagration in my own brain.  I guess you’d call it shock.  Will I ever get past denial?  Will I ever plunk down the plastic and download my own book on to a gadget?  (I hope to god my publisher makes an e-version of my own book available when it comes out next March, cause god knows that’s where the future of the money is).

So I was feeling pretty down, until (more…)

An Ode To My Students

April 16, 2010

My class “Literature and the Environment” is not for the student looking to sit back and chill.   It’s a class for champions.  And this semester, I got them.  This little ode is for them.

We started in late January.  It rained.  We read essays by Barry Lopez, bell hooks, Luther Standing Bear, Edward Abbey and Jonathan Safran Foer.  We read Wendell Berry on the Unsettling of America and pondered the ravenous drive for conquest that runs like a river of blood through our history.  What is nature, we asked?  Where is it?  In what ways am I in it, of it?  In the dance between nature and culture, must it be a zero sum game?  And most importantly, what is our paradigm?  What is the paradigm of western culture that has brought us so blithely to our current perilous brink?  Can we change it?

Can reading literature change it?  I want them to believe it can, because it has the power to change the way we think and see.  These students have been willing to entertain that possibility.  They’ve been willing to look into their own ideas and conceptions.  They’ve even been willing to change.

In February (still raining), Thoreau led us through the woods to rapture of his morning bath and the Homeric trumpet of a mosquito, while Michael Pollan brought us back out into the garden and reason.  Rather than roping “nature” off into wilderness preserves while we despoil every other corner of the planet, why not treat the whole thing like a garden?  Let us get what we need while nature gets what it needs to survive.  That way, when we have a woodchuck problem, we don’t have to firebomb the woodchuck burrow, we just need to build a fence. (more…)

E-books and the Slow Book Movement, Chapter Two

April 8, 2010

So last week, I launched the Slow Book Movement as an act of resistance against the e-book.  It was futile, of course, kind of like insisting on the glories of  cuneiform.  Because not two days after I posted, swarms of  e-people descended on the gadget store, all buzzing and hyperventilating, hardly able to wait for their turn to catch the latest whatsit to fall out of the apple tree.   Well, I counted the $600 I still had in my pocket, rolled over in my hammock and took a long snooze.  When I woke up, I was in one of my slow moods, which made me think of last summer, when my little friend Lucas and I sat quietly on the lower bunk in his room to read a book.  We’d been for a long walk earlier in the day and were ready for a change of pace.  Slower.   So I held the book on my lap and turned the big pages, which sounded like szslis, and we stared at the pictures and Lucas pointed and wondered and we talked.  I read it aloud, and we skipped over some parts that Lucas didn’t care for and back-tracked to some pages we especially liked, and Lucas took it all in and the afternoon sun came shining through the high little window just like I planned it.

That was either the day before or the day after I went trout fishing with my daughter up there on a little Creek in Oregon, on another sunny afternoon full of freshness and summer air.  Erin and her boyfriend and I caught enough fish for each of us to have two, and we cooked ’em up and ate ’em along with some homegrown tomatoes and basil, outside  on the deck while the summer sun seemed like it never did want to go down.

So, if Rule #1 of the Slow Book Movement is Meander, browse and see what turns up, Rule #2 is Go fishing, eat a trout, and read a book with a shining little boy.  No batteries required.

An E-Book is Not a Book, In Which I Launch the Slow Book Movement

April 2, 2010

So everyone’s all a-twitter about e-books. And why not? As a species, we’re like magpies, squawkily flocking from one over-hyped shiny new thing to the next.  Gunpowder? Railroads? Lightbulb? Telegraph? Telephone? Airplanes? E-mail?  Shiny!  Marry the age of consumerism with the age of gadgets and the pace e-quickens. Every six months now, someone tosses a new shiny thing out there into the public square, and we’re all over it like pigeons on popcorn.   Ooh, ooh ipod, ilike, iphone, iwant, ipad, ineed, gimme that shiny new thing.

I’m not a saboteur, much.  I Twitter, I FB, I LMAO at times.   In fact, I was watching a video just the other day touting all the great things that an e-reader can do.   Can’t find the link, sorry. But its promises were great: a little red dot would follow my reading progress, and when I hit the word “bird,” say, up would pop a little picture of the bird in the margin. Wow! Or if I might want to know what a word meant, I could just click a doo-hickey and up would pop the definition. Or a voice would tell me how to pronounce a word! I have to confess that for a moment I was nearly taken in.

But what if I wanted to just stare at the little bird picture for awhile before I even started to read the page? What if I wanted to flip through the pages to look at all the little pictures before I even started to read the book? And why should everything be so E-Z?

Ah, the pleasures to be found in looking up words in a, you know, “physical” dictionary. Sure, I can click on the little button, but if I look up, say, “relevant” in my Random House Webster’s College, I get to not only look at the picture on the page anytime I like (which is a drawing of “relief”), but I get to visit the neighbors: “relentless,” “reliable” and “relic.” All of which seem relevant to this here blog post.

(On the very same page of my dictionary, I also find the word “relaxin,” which I learn is a “polypeptide hormone” but which I also hope describes my afternoon plans.) (more…)