Books & Mags

2000 year old technological marvel still in use today

Comments (13)
  1. Terrific research and article
    I agree that we can co-exist

    One of the things I like most about paper books is being able to share them
    especially with little children, not worrying if they get damaged or creased or even chewed.

    we still have my 23 YO’s first book a beat up copy of Spot’s First Walk

    an ebook doesn’t cut the mustard for this type of shared experience

    Therse Holland

  2. prying1 says:

    Excellent article Nora!

    One sentence jumped out at me. “The book’s key weaknesses are weight, susceptibility to dampness, and a growing sense that printing on wood pulp is environmentally untenable.”

    Regarding “weight”: Hauling a box of books from a library sale to the car has proven to me that this is true.

    Regarding “dampness”: Nothing worse than finding boxes of books that were stored directly under a leak in a garage roof.

    BUT regarding “a growing sense that printing on wood pulp is environmentally untenable.” nothing could be further from the truth. Trees, the main source of wood pulp, are a renewable crop and properly farmed land IS environmentally tenable. There are people out there that, for whatever reason, claim that the sky is falling concerning forests and mislead people into thinking that once a tree is cut down it is gone forever.

    That is not true because even if the land is left alone after a tree is removed many types of tree’s have roots that will send up shoots to replace it. I’m currently dealing with this with a pepper tree in my own backyard.

    I don’t want to get political on this site but those who love books printed on paper must shout down the lies of the doomsayers that say we are destroying the earth by cutting down a tree. Their nonsense only causes costs to rise through extra legislation added to the processes of book manufacturing as well as other goods and services.

    1. Nora O'Neill says:

      TREES themselves aren’t the issue. It’s that wood is filled with lignin so requires heavy processing with chemicals to get paper white. The waste water often isn’t completely cleaned or cooled before being released back into local waterways. So you may have cholorine and dioxins being dumped into local waters. (it may also be HOT which can be just as big a problem)

      Less chemical intensive processes are slowly being phased in, but they’re generally more expensive than the old chemical heavy ones. Also as regulations tighten in one place, they may just shift to somewhere else with lots of water and lax regulations.

      There’s also the issue of getting the paper from where it’s made, to the printer, to the distributor, to the store, to the customer. Books are heavy, so chew up a fair amount of fossil fuels in their transit.

      WOOD itself is a fine natural resource and we’re unlikely to run out of trees for paper production. It’s the other parts of the equation that are the issue and why there’s so much interest in other types of paper that don’t require so much processing… or use waste from existing processes so you’re not doing anything additional. Hemp falls into the category of one that requires way less processing and no chemical processing while sugercane bagasse literally uses leftover stuff that would otherwise be landfilled.

      You still have the transport issue to deal with but non-wood papers tackle one part of the equation.

      1. prying1 says:

        Thanks Nora for educating me some more. You are always good for that.

      2. Susan says:

        Ooligan Press published a booklet called Rethinking Paper and Ink, which discusses sustainable publishing in detail. You can download a free e-copy here:

        Also, the press is currently working on a second edition that will be a considerably longer and more readable book.

  3. Girls' Bikes says:

    This is a really interesting read, which me wonder just how far have we come today? Well in reality we’ve come a long way, but its nice to have these reminders of the past.

  4. Judy says:

    Remember the ‘paperless office’? I’m still waiting for that.

    I wonder which will happen first – the demise of the book, or the paperless office. I think that both books and paper-filled offices are here to stay.

  5. Dan Holloway says:

    Quick aside from my day job – don’t forget Old Chinese manuscripts written on bamboo strips.

    Back on topic, it’s always good to be reminded of the context of the death of books argument – in particular that books themselves occupy a by no means the whole of the timeline. What must not be forgotten, though, is that the timeline is longer still, and encompasses the whole history of oral storytelling – something that, from the Djemma el Fnaa in Marrakech to your local poetry slam, is still going strong

  6. Awesome post! Awesome Awesome Awesome!

  7. An interesting and thought provoking post. I doubt that paper will disappear in this generation and maybe not even the next, but it will disappear. We haven’t quite got to a paperless office yet but it is very close. I remember 20 years ago and our office was full of files an paper. Now all of this is held on electronic documentation in a server in the cloud. email has replaced the written posts that we used to get.
    I also notice my two 20 year old daughters do every single thing online and they don’t get bank statements or anything like that any more. It is shifting, slowly yes and slower than many predicted but it is moving.

  8. Winonah says:

    Brilliant review of the evolution of books! Any bibliophile would love to see it summarized so eloquently.

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