Green Reading: Eco-Friendly Tips for Booklovers

While I try to be green on a daily basis, Earth Day has got me thinking more about my not-so-green reading habits.  Generally, I buy paperback books from Amazon or B&N, read them, put them back on my shelf and wait for someone in my family to request one.  While this habit makes for a bookshelf worth bragging about, it has undeniably led to the destruction of more trees than I would like to think about.  In fact, according to Eco-Libris, more than 30 million trees are being cut down each year to produce the books sold in the US alone.  Yikes.  

Thus, I am going to attempt to change my reading habits.  Here is what I’m thinking:

(1) Exchange books with friends: After I read a book I know a friend would love I can mail it to them and request they do the same for me, or gift it to them for an occasion.

(2) Buy used: Amazon offers a ton of used titles, usually starting at around $2.

(3) Hit up the library: While I frequent the NYPL on fifth and 42nd, I haven’t yet been to a library to check out a book. Come to think of it, I don’t even own a library card.

(4) Research which publishers offer books printed on treeless or recycled paper and support them by buying a book or two.

(5) Visit Eco-Libris to plant a tree for every book you read. Accepting Visa and MasterCard, Eco-Libris has made it easier than ever to plant a tree ($5 per tree).  Not only does this liberate your guilt, but Eco-Libris will also send you a sticker to display on your book’s sleeve so you can proudly show off your greenness.  Now that would make for a bookshelf worth bragging about.


Mass-Market Fiction: Love To Hate It

I confess I am a total book snob.  If you have The Da Vinci Code or anything written by Mary Higgins Clark listed as your favorite books on Facebook, it’s a total deal breaker. However, lately I’ve got to thinking about mass-market fiction and it’s place in the publishing world and I’ve come to realize it is one of importance. 

I recently read a blog by Assistant Professor of English Anne Trubek that maintained Publishers Should Start Using Birth Control, which argued that publishers should concentrate more on creating quality literature, thereby publishing fewer titles, than whipping out hundreds of titles a year for the sheer profitability. While I completely agree with the concept, it is altogether hopeless and highly idealized.  Ms. Trubek is forgetting that, sadly, not all of us are English majors and not everyone can appreciate the quality of great literature.  In other words, she is forgetting the average reader does not go home to curl up with Ulysess or The Sound and the Fury. In order for a publisher to be successful they must publish many books that they hope can become bestsellers in order to publish the few gems that not everyone will buy, but more often than not turn into those Pulitzer winners.

So keep reading your Mary Higgins Clark and Dan Brown novels.  This way, I can rest assured publishers are making enough revenue to take a chance on those great pieces of literature not many will buy in the first year or two, but will inevitably fall into the hands of those who can appreciate it.

I am completely aware my opinion comes across as arrogant, but as I confessed earlier, I am a total book snob.

For those of you who still defend the quality of mass markets I suggest you read this guy’s blog.


Book Review: Animal Farm

Written in 1964 as an allegory of the Stalin era, this distopian novella aims to criticize socialist regimes. Orwell details the story of the animals of Manor Farm who overthrow their farmer, a man too drunk to care about the conditions of his farm, and reestablish their home as an "Animal Farm". They quickly assert seven animal commandments, namely that all animals are equal. As time passes the smartest animals (pigs) slowly become more powerful than the rest of the animals, leading weekly meetings and allowing themselves special privileges. Soon the other animals begin forgetting the seven animal commandments and the pigs quickly assure them there was only a single commandment: "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others". Eventually the pigs begin sleeping in the farmer's house, drinking alcohol and walking on their hind legs- essentially becoming the very figure they worked so hard to overthrow.

Finally, the pigs invite other farmers to Animal Farm to resolve misunderstandings. Napoleon, the lead pig, declares the name "Animal Farm" is abolished and "henceforward the farm will be known as Manor Farm- from which he believed was its correct and original name". Clover, a horse looking in on the pigs and men, notices something had altered in the face of the pigs. "Clover's old dim eyes flitted from one face to another. Some of them had five chins, some had four, some had three. But what was it that seemed to be melting and changing?" After Clover watches the scene for a bit, Orwell concludes his novella with my favorite passage; "No question, now, what had happened to the faces of the pigs. The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but it was already impossible to say which was which."

I highly recommend Animal Farm to anything looking for a quick, thought-provoking read. Orwell uses allegory not only to highlight the dangers of totalitarian regimes, but also to comment on what happens after a community establishes their freedom; inevitably that freedom is suppressed and leaders rise again to oppress. There were aspects of this story that reminded me of my favorite short story, "Harrison Bergeron" by Vonnegut- read it.

Animal Farm was my introduction to Orwell and I am going to put Nineteen Eighty-Four on my shelf to read. In her introduction to Animal Farm Ann Patchett highlights the very reason I liked this novella so much; "Like pledges and nursery rhymes, [Animal Farm] stays with us, a promise of what will happen if we ever surrender control of our fate to the system. Orwell never gave his readers the answers, just the worst case scenario for the questions".

On a side note, Animal Farm made me happy to be a vegetarian :)


Confessions of a Grammarholic.

One of my favorite blogs, Grammar Guard (www.grammarguard.org), ridicules the ungrammatical speech of celebrities, political figures and athletes, to name a few.  As a self-proclaimed grammarian, I find myself struggling to keep my mouth shut on a day-to-day basis when a friend blurts out “who” when the sentence merits “whom”, or when singular-plural agreement is thrown out the window (FYI: everybody = singular). One has to be somewhat of a language nerd to fully appreciate this blog, as Grammar Guard claims, “We’re passionate about language, and so are our readers”.

After perusing the blog today, laughing at celebrities who may be more beautiful than me but could stand to take a lesson in English grammar, I began thinking; why do we use the words we do?  What do the subtle differences between words that are commonly used, sometimes used or misused reveal about the speaker?  Are words a product of who we are or are we a product of our words?  If the way a person drives can reveal their personality type, can’t a study of their lexicon expose the inner-workings of their brain as well? 

While I am rarely inspired to read non-fiction, I decided to check out Amazon to find a book that can answer my questions.  The result: The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature by Steven Pinker.  While writing a paper on second language acquisition in college I read a few chapters of Pinker’s book The Language Instinct and actually still remember it 3 years later, which in my opinion, says a lot.  Anyway, I’m hoping Pinker’s newest book can teach me a thing or two about the relationship between language and the way the mind works.  "In The Stuff of Thought Steven Pinker explores how the mind works in a completely new style- by examining the way we use words.  What does swearing reveal about the emotional brain? What do the ambiguities of dating say about our social relationships? How do semantic niceties- like the ones that got our last two presidents into trouble- unmask our conceptions of time, truth, and responsibility? And what does the spread of new words (such as the mysterious term spam) tell us about social trends?"

 I’ll let everybody know whether or not it’s worth his or her time.  (See, singular-plural agreement- it's not that difficult).