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NRDC's This Green Life
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July 2008 / Links updated 2012
BOOKS VS. TREES

Some people are house-proud; I am book-proud. My walls are lined with books, beginning with the hallway entrance. The sight of their spines and feel of their paper evoke a rich (dare I say Proustian?) world of memory and association.

Tree hug So I am not the best candidate for a Kindle or other electronic book reader, but I got one anyway. For much as I thrill to the idea of living in a library, when I take off my reading glasses and peer through my environmental lens, I am filled with a nagging sense of waste.

How many trees does it take to produce a given number of books? For several reasons, it's not possible to say: Both trees and books vary in size, and different paper-making processes result in different yields. Besides, books are not made only from whole trees, but from wood chips and forest waste as well.

No matter. Hard numbers aren't everything. It's enough to know how little books are used considering their provenance. In our house, a good 300-page book might get one day of use -- five hours when my husband breezes through it, another 10 when I plod through and a couple of more when we riffle through the pages later in search of remembered highlights. At that rate, it's virtually a disposable object, except that instead of being discarded afterwards, it is employed as home decor.

I wouldn't buy a t-shirt for one day of use; why a book? For a person with an environmental conscience, it doesn't make sense.

That is why the Kindle interested me. It allows for book collecting without the waste. Ditto for newspaper and magazine subscriptions. Up to 200 books and periodicals can be stored on it, along with personal text, web and image files.

The convenience is amazing. I am a person who brings something to read wherever I go, lest I be caught with a spare minute and nothing to do. I even bring reading material in the car in case of a traffic jam. Hence, I am always held up when leaving the house while I debate what to take -- the amusing magazine or the reading I ought to do for work; the 19th century triple-decker I can't get enough of or the slender volume I'm not really into; the book I've nearly finished, which could leave me stranded, or the one I haven't begun yet and may not like. The Kindle solves the quandary brilliantly by allowing me to bring them all.

Other convenient features include the ability to automatically open each book or periodical to the place where I last left off, change the text size, look words up, and highlight and annotate text. The whole purchasing and downloading side of things has been worked out very well. Thus, if I happen to get a sudden hankering for a book while sitting in the park, I can buy it on the spot -- or sample a chapter first and buy later.

But how does the reading experience compare to a printed book? In its core aspect, it is exactly the same. I find that once you get involved in the text and cross the looking glass into its world, the book itself disappears (just as Amazon's Jeff Bezos hoped it would). What's in your mind becomes real; what's in your hand, immaterial.

All of which is to say I like the Kindle... a lot. What it lacks in the Proustian dimension, it makes up for in the practical. I would always want real physical books for the works I love best-- fine hardcover books at that. But for most of the ephemera I read, electronic versions are fine.

Years ago, I came to the same conclusion with regard to the newspaper when I gave up the print version to read it exclusively online. What I lost was the familiar smell and feel of newsprint and the fun of perusing the page layouts. What I gained was the web's look-up and cross-referencing capabilities and the knowledge that I was helping to preserve trees, whose dappled leaves, cooling shade and trilling birds exceed the delights of even the most beautifully printed page.

—Sheryl Eisenberg

Family photos
Sheryl Eisenberg, a long-time advisor to NRDC, posts a new This Green Life every month. Sheryl makes her home in Tribeca (NYC), where—along with her children, Sophie and Gabby, and husband, Peter—she tries to put her environmental principles into practice. No fooling. Read more about Sheryl.


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AMERICAN CHEMICAL SOCIETY
Would You Like That Book in Paper or Plastic?

NEWSWEEK
The Future of Reading

WIKIPEDIA
E-Book Reader Matrix

GIZMODO
Amazon Kindle Real-Life Review

UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN
Forms of the Book in Antiquity

TREEHUGGER
How to Green Your Book (for Authors)

SQUIDOO
Social Networking for Readers

ECO-LIBRIS
Plant a Tree for Every Book You Read

Reading the Kindle
Lounging with my Kindle. I find it easy to handle in any position.

Trees vs. energy: E-book readers save paper but use energy. The most efficient are those based on e-ink technology, like the Kindle. For maximum efficiency (and battery life), leave the wireless turned off until you need it.

Shop around: The Kindle isn't the only e-book reader in town. Check out other options, such as the Sony Reader and Bookeen.


Bamboo accordion book
Evolution of the book: Before the book took its current shape, it was a scroll (like the Jewish Torah) and occasionally an accordion-style book (like the above). Writing surfaces have run the gamut from wax and wood to papyrus and parchment.




Your favorite nature spots and mine

This Green Life nature map

The collaborative This Green Life nature map begun for Earth Day is still going strong. To see people's recommendations, go to the map on Google and click the markers. To add your own favorites to the map:

  1. Go to the map on Google.
  2. SIGN IN to your Google or Gmail account. (You need an account to edit the map.)
  3. Click the edit button in the panel to the left of the map.
  4. DON'T CHANGE the map title or description! INSTEAD, click the balloon icon near the map zoom controls.
  5. Move the balloon to your favorite spot and click.
  6. Tell us why you love it!
  7. Click OK.


Sheryl Eisenberg is a web developer and writer. With her firm, Mixit Productions (http://www.mixitproductions.com), she brought NRDC online in 1996, designed NRDC's first websites, and continues to develop special web features for NRDC. She created and, for several years, wrote the Union of Concerned Scientists' green living column, Greentips, and has designed and contributed content to many nonprofit sites.