Once upon a time, I loved books. What is more romantic than floor to ceiling bookshelves, lining entire walls stocked with a universe of books. Big books, little books, fat ones and slender ones, bright ones and dark ones. Sliding ladders that promise access to the elusive upper levels, step-stools that enable you not only to reach up for a book just out of reach, but to sit down to browse books toeing the edges of the floor. While I am not lucky enough to enjoy the extravagance, or gift, or indulgence of a high-storied, brimming home library, I do have bookcases in my foyer, my office, our den (both of them) and even our bedroom. I would venture to guess that we have more built-in bookcases in our bedroom than most people have in their entire homes.
And yet, today, after yesterday's adventures in housecleaning, I find myself with four bags of books I will be toting around. Two bags of books I hope to give away to general used-book fairs (if anyone will take them and use them), one bag to Jewish libraries (if they will take them) and one bag of books to return to a university library. So, on a sustainability count: how do we best handle old, unwanted books (you cannot recycle hardbound books)? I have to hope that all that paper will somehow be recaptured, although most likely the used books will be thrown away. And no matter where I take them, I have to plan a most efficient route to limit the amount of gasoline I use to redistribute these books.
As much as I love owning books (and when put on bookcase on an outer wall - they serve as great insulation!), I have begun to yearn for an aesthetically pleasing, easily portable, all-purpose e-book. How great it would be if I could hold a sensuously designed "book" and read any paper, any magazine, and any book from any library anywhere in the world at a place anywhere I am in the world. Downloadable both via the internet AND via satellite anywhere that satellites work.
Used books - indeed all currently existing books of any value - would increase in value as this old technology of paper became a way of the past. We would save enormous amounts of resources from trees, to waste in producing paper (even recycled paper) to transportation of the raw materials, the paper from the mill, the books from the printer and the trip to the used-book fairs or the dump.
Not only that, access to knowledge would increase - for I could both graphically, and affordably, get many more publications and books than I can both physically and financially afford now.
Perhaps if I live long enough I will see it. For that day is coming - and even us early nay-sayers or doubters will come to see that the act of reading can remain sensually satisfying and intellectually fulfilling, and still be enviromentally sound.
Hurry! We are waiting.