Wednesday, April 25, 2007


Used books = recycling

I've been following the green blog of No Impact Man lately and with the advent of Earth Day and the ridiculously bad news about global warming, I've decided to go even more green than I already am. I mean, at least my business is founded on recycling. Used books, one of the best kinds of recycling, surely. And I already walk to work, buy local and organic whenever possible, wear my clothes until they fall apart, scrutinise packaging, read labels, etc., etc. But now I feel the need to go further than that. Step one, today: I'm switching my electricity at the shop and at our apartment to non-profit sustainable energy. My sister Kate heard about this small Maine company through a friend who just switched, too: Maine Interfaith Power and Light (which kinda reminds me in tone of the good old Bailey Building and Loan from It's a Wonderful Life). I'm buying eighty percent water and twenty percent wind. It costs a few cents more per kilowatt hour than what I pay now, but nothing more for delivery or service, which still comes from my regular old local electricity provider. So, it will be four or five more dollars a month. Step two, soon: I've had it with plastic bags. I'm looking for other options for the shop - something either biodegradable or recyclable which will still keep books dry when customers leave the shop on rainy days (Must... protect... the... books...). If anyone has ideas, let me know. I've heard about some kind of cornstarch-based bags but I haven't looked into them yet. Thanks to several of my customers who bring their own cloth bags every time they visit!

Speaking of customers, things are looking up at the shop, with the coming of spring. Over the last week we've seen our first over-seventy-degree days, and I've closed up a little early every day to get out and take long walks while the sun is still high in the sky. But in the meantime, during shop hours, I've sold some nice books. So, the coffers are refilling. Always a relief to be solvent. I tend to feel a bit nails-on-the-chalkboard, twig-snapping-on-the-edge-of-the-cliff if I don't have at least next month's rent sitting fatly in the bank. A few items from the sales slips this past week: a nice Oxford Concise Dictionary (not the one I bought last week in Boston, I still have that one), a big book on Mount Everest, first editions of Smiley's A Thousand Acres and an Ernest Hemingway memoir, an early hardcover reprint of Slaughterhouse-Five, Thoreau's Cape Cod, two books about writer's block, a memoir by Einstein, a massive Dialogues of Plato, an identification guide to falcons, a few Pearl S. Buck hardcovers, Max Ernst's Une Semaine de Bonte, Jung's Memories, Dreams, Reflections, the list could go on. Good to see people buying again. Between that and eBay and my other bits and pieces of revenue I've made it through another winter.

I've been reading a lot as well as selling a lot. At a library sale a few weeks ago I picked up a copy of a hardcover omnibus of Josephine Tey's novels, and thinking of how much I loved Brat Farrar (from last year's reading), I took it home to read last weekend. I've since discovered that although I don't like to read mysteries if they contain graphic violence (and most do), clever detective fiction is right up my alley. The omnibus is called Four Five and Six by Tey (1959) and contains her novels The Singing Sands, A Shilling for Candles, and The Daughter of Time, and all three feature the same hero, our intrepid Scotland Yard Inspector Alan Grant. I inhaled them, one a day for three days. The Singing Sands was great - it had it all, a great plot slowly unfolding, smooth prose style, some camp and humor, a kind of delight in poking fun at the genre itself while still being firmly within the genre. Tey really gets under my skin, she's got a light touch with language. Here's a bit that stopped me in my tracks, from The Daughter of Time (p.49):

"...perhaps a series of small satisfactions scattered like sequins over the texture of everyday life was of greater worth than the academic satisfaction of owning a collection of fine objects at the back of a drawer."

Nicely put. Though I seem to have both at the moment, the small satisfactions and the collection. Out on the shelves, though, and in use, being read, not tucked away. Being recycled.

Hi Sara,I managed to visit the Caliban Book Shop in Pittsburgh last weekend. A good weekend when I can travel to a far city and go to a bookstore. This was a great little book shop. There was a coffee shop nearby and a small bistro for Steve to have a beer after he was done looking for books. Incidentally, the real reason we were in Pittsburgh for the day was a wedding but whats a wedding when you can go to a new book store. Bought a book of literary essays by AS Byatt. Just doing my bit to keep on recycling those used books. Jodi
Hey Jodi - sounds like my idea of fun, too. I'm off to Massachusetts this weekend to do the same thing (minus the wedding): visit bookshops, with a museum or three for good measure. Some of my favorite items at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts are these little bookbinding tools from Isfahan from the sixteenth century (I think, perhaps earlier though?), though, so even the museum visits can be about books. It's a sickness, isn't it...
Some more ideas to save power - make sure you switch all your light bulbs to low wattage ones, insulate the walls properly and install double-glazing if you don't have it. Reduce air-conditioning and heating use. Make sure all electrical equipment is turned off properly at night - particularly computer equipment - stand-by options use loads of power.

But above all, make a virtue of your behaviour, encourage customers and staff to take part in campaigning action - to contact their representatives, join protests and campaign for ecological causes.

Finally, stock and sell books about Global Warming and what you can do. Ok, there are unlikely to be many copies of Mark Lynas or George Monbiot's books floating around yet - but they're worth stocking.
Thanks for the suggestions. I do stock books on nature, deep ecology, and environmentalism, from classics to current works, as I find them second-hand. And lately I've been telling anyone who will listen about the sustainable electric supply company I just switched to.

I do run a small a/c here in the summer months, because if the weather is in the 80s or above for several days it becomes unbearable in this building. High humidity is bad for the books, and the customers. But, that said, I do have a new efficient a/c, not an old electricity-sucking behemoth.
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