Eco-Libris, a company dedicated to positive environmental practices in the book publishing business, is currently sponsoring a Green Books Campaign, a blogger event designed to call attention to green publishing in which 100 blogs will simultaneously review 100 green-published books.
I'm not completely sure what exactly "green publishing" means, but I like this organization's entrepreneurial focus and I was happy to join in once I saw the array of fairly freaky book titles available for review, including Hope and the Super Green Highway, Adventures of an Aluminum Can, Raw For Dessert, Listening to Trees, Ethnic Knitting Exploration and Sleeping Naked Is Green. I picked a title called Savage Gods, Silver Ghosts, a book about fishing with poet Ted Hughes.
This book looks like a regular slim hardcover, and if I hadn't been told the book was "green" I would never notice a difference. Is there actually a difference? It's printed on recycled paper, but that doesn't seem to me to go far enough. There are lots of reasons to wonder if there is any substance to "eco-friendly" publishing at all -- MobyLives recently asked some probing questions about this.
The biggest concern for eco-friendly book publishing is not the small run chapbooks but the mass-market titles, and when it comes to these I think the book industry will have to do much more than print on recycled paper before they can wear a "green" stamp. I'm mostly thinking about the obscene amount of waste produced by the bad habit of printing massively hopeful over-runs of expected supersellers in bulky hardcover, shipping them on giant container ships from the third-world countries where they are manufactured to the chain stores near you where they are often displayed for a few days, forklifted back to the warehouse, packed off to discount outlets and eventually pulped.
Like every modern industry, book publishing will have to do some real soul-searching before it can credibly start wearing green. Still, any spot is a good place to start.
And none of this has anything to do with the eco-friendly book I will now briefly review, Savage Gods, Silver Ghosts: In The Wild With Ted Hughes by Ehor Boyanowsky, published by Douglas & McIntyre of Vancouver, Canada. This is a book about two things: fishing and poetry. The author indulges ecstatically in both, preferring the Pacific Northwest territory near Vancouver as his stomping grounds. Years ago, his infectious enjoyment of both arts caught the attention of renowned British poet and former Poet Laureate Ted Hughes. Boyanowsky brought the British poet to his favorite rivers to bond with a certain type of fish known as steelhead salmon, and this book is the account of their sport and their conversation.
Boyanowsky is an elegant and sensitive writer expressing unabashed joy at finding himself with his two favorite things in the world -- a great poet and some great salmon -- at the same time. The truth is that I don't particularly love either fishing or the poetry of Ted Hughes, but it's Boyanowsky's powerful voice that holds me and makes me like this book.
There are also dark currents in this book -- naturally, since Ted Hughes was the husband of two women who committed suicide, one of whom was Sylvia Plath, and since their son Nicholas Hughes, another enthusiastic nature scientist, committed suicide just this year.
Nicholas Hughes appears several times in this book, usually with fishing gear in hand. But like his father, many of the fish in this book, and nature itself, his secrets remain mysterious.
1. Some Internet memes are meant to last more than a day or two. Like everybody else, I watched the moving Susan Boyle performance on YouTube earlier this week, and then I watched it again and again. What makes this so special? The quality of her singing alone doesn't account for the craze (and maybe that's why there's already a backlash brewing). What makes the performance so magical, I think, is the transformation we are allowed to witness. Before Susan Boyle sings, she appears dowdy, foolish, out of place. Then the music starts, her spine straightens and she becomes a different person, beautiful, elegant, confident, before our eyes.
Screw the backlash; I plan to watch this video at least ten more times. And thinking about Susan Boyle's televised metamorphosis makes me realize how often the appeal of music has to do with the excitement of transformation. With that in mind, here are a few more recent notes on music, literary and otherwise.
2. Inspired by an apparent nod from Bob Dylan, I've now begun reading Southern writer Larry Brown, who I'd previously only occasionally read about on a blog. I couldn't find the short story collection Big Bad Love in my local Borders, but I did find a novel called Dirty Work and it's excellent. It's very easy to imagine why Dylan would like this writer (the highly literary singer has also been reading and talking about Barack Obama's book).
3. I get many review copies of books in the mail, and not nearly as many CDs. A publicist for the Decemberists sent me their new CD Hazards of Love because it was supposed to have lots of literary content. After several intrigued listenings, I still can't quite make out the story (which seems to involve a rake's progress and a twisted love affair) but I love the music. It reminds me of nothing so much as vintage Jethro Tull -- dynamic, lilting and appealingly histrionic -- with a touch of late-period David Bowie, and I sure as hell do mean that as a compliment. Check it out for yourself.
4. There's nothing wrong with Neil Young's new automotive-inspired CD Fork in the Road either. Shades of Rust Never Sleeps, except now it's an ecologically-minded LincVolt rather than a sedan that's being delivered.
5. The new Jadakiss record includes "What If", a sequel to his great track "Why" that features a guest verse by Nas. I wouldn't mind two or three more verses, but Jadakiss has never been one to wear out his welcome.
6. He got erased from history in the otherwise good film Cadillac Records, but late great Chess recording artist Bo Diddley has another distinction: Malia and Sasha Obama's dog is named after him.
7. Xeni Jardin points to the always transformative Patti Smith on Easter Sunday.
8. An archived Ramones performance from Steve Wozniak's 1982 California bash the US Festival.
9. A new David Lynch video meditates upon Moby.
10. A four-year-old kid channeling Keith Moon.
11. A bunch of girls jumping rope.
If not one of these various offerings manages to transform you, I don't know what to say.
Lawrence Ferlinghetti, poet, global activist and indie publisher extraordinaire, turns 90 years old today. Here's his Litkicks biography page, and here's the poem we've been running on this site for many years:
The pennycandystore beyond the El is where I first fell in love with unreality Jellybeans glowed in the semi-gloom of that september afternoon A cat upon the counter moved among the licorice sticks and tootsie rolls and Oh Boy Gum Outside the leaves were falling as they died A wind had blown away the sun A girl ran in Her hair was rainy Her breasts were breathless in the little room Outside the leaves were falling and they cried Too soon! too soon!
The great folksinger Pete Seeger will also turn 90 on May 3, and New York City will celebrate him in big style on this date at Madison Square Garden featuring performers like Bruce Springsteen, Eddie Vedder, Arlo Guthrie, Dave Matthews and John Cougar Mellencamp. That's going to be some hootenanny birthday party. Pete Seeger and Lawrence Ferlinghetti are two American sages, feisty, stubborn and deeply politically engaged. What blacklisted Communist Pete Seeger and embattled Howl publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti had in common is that they both loved to fight for their causes. They both wore out their competition.
1. If you grew up ordering slim paperbacks in school from Scholastic Book Services, you'll enjoy this Flickr set as much as I do (via).
2. Neil Young has written an article for the Huffington Post about how the Detroit auto industry can radically alter its corporate culture by embracing green innovation. Young is clearly a transportation freak -- aside from his work with Lionel Trains and Linc Volt, he also once wrote "Long May You Run", a sweet love song about a favorite car. But I get the biggest kick out of the simple fact that Neil Young has written an article for the Huffington Post.
3. Judith Fitzgerald of Books Inq., responding to an apt appreciation by Billy Collins of a new Dylan publication, says that Leonard Cohen is a better poet than Bob Dylan. Levi Asher says Judith Fitzgerald has got to be kidding. Leonard Cohen wrote "Bird on a Wire" and maybe two other good songs. The album Blood on the Tracks alone outdoes Cohen's entire career. A midget can't play basketball with a giant.
4. "Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons found that doctors interacting with literature were more willing to adopt another person’s perspective, sometimes after just four one-hour workshops." I believe it. More here.
5. A 4th Century Greek joke book anticipates Monty Python's dead parrot sketch. But what about the cheese shop?
6. OUP Blog presents William Irvine on desire, a topic of infinite mystery.
7. The Millions remembers Liar's Poker.
8. Neil Young is writing about cars, and Lexus is sponsoring original fiction. Participants include Curtis Sittenfeld and Jane Smiley. The collaborative novel's visual layout is a little too "Lexus" for my tastes, but the experiment is worth a look.
9. Joan Didion is writing a film for HBO about Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham, who will forever be remembered as the subject of a Watergate-era John Mitchell prediction that didn't come true.
10. I caught PBS's broadcast of Filth, about 1960s British decency advocate Mary Whitehouse, last night. Very well done, and quite even-handed. (Note: the fact that I am praising the show has nothing to do with PBS buying a Filth blog ad on LitKicks, and the fact that I watched the show has everything to do with the fact that Roger Waters sang about Mary Whitehouse on Pink Floyd's Animals).
11. Wonkette is a good political website, but they clearly know nothing about The Godfather. Nobody told Tessio (Abe Vigoda) that he was going to Las Vegas before killing him on the way to the airport -- that was Carlo Rizzo. Jeez.
(Note: yes, that's Samuel Jackson telling everybody to chill at the end of the clip.)
2. There'll be a yearlong Poe Festival in Baltimore. I have a feeling Caryn and I (plus some kids) will be checking it out.
3. Here's a really interesting piece on Charles M. Schulz's use of punctuation in Peanuts strips.
4. While we're talking comics, let's not forget Al Capp.
5. Or this guy.
6. Eric Rosenfeld of Wet Asphalt is launching a multi-post blog series to develop the idea that the legendary science-fiction novel Dune by Frank Herbert really sucks. Sounds like the kind of crazy idea I usually come up with.
7. Beatrice.com presents Deb Olin Unferth and Diane Vadino at the Mercantile Library on November 12 in New York City.
8. Stubborn but lovable New York rabble-rouser Mickey Z. is performing at Bluestockings on the Lower East Side on November 15.
9. Ian McEwan on Barack Obama and Climate Change.
10. Andrew Leonard's wonderful piece on John Leonard begins like this:
Feeling like a guilty grave robber ransacking a pharaoh's tomb, I cleaned out my father's sock drawer on Sunday.
It ends with the father, son and a nurse happily watching Colin Powell endorse Barack Obama in a hospital room.
American Earth: Environmental Writing Since Thoreau by Bill McKibben is a substantial, eclectic anthology of original texts by many American writers concerned with ecology or nature: John Muir, Frederick Law Olmsted, Theodore Roosevelt, John Burroughs, Theodore Dreiser, Robinson Jeffers, John Steinbeck, Woody Guthrie, E. B. White, Jane Jacobs, Rachel Carson, Russell Baker, Lyndon B. Johnson (? !), Edward Abbey, Philip K. Dick, R. Buckminster Fuller, Gary Snyder, Stephanie Mills, Joni Mitchell, Marvin Gaye, John McFee, Annie Dillard, Robert Crumb (the great "Main Street America" series), Jonathan Schell, Al Gore and Barbara Kingsolver. No sign of Richard Gere. But McKibben has put together a powerful collection, and of course I agree with McKibben that it all starts back at the pond with my own favorite writer, you know who.
My only slight quibble is the packaging, the $40 price tag and shiny decorative slip cover. Shouldn't an ecology book avoid slick slipcovers? But what do I know. McKibben did a great job, and this book would make a good gift to anybody who'd like to try a different kind of reading.
2. I really like the new design at the Syntax of Things blog. The background graphic gives new meaning to the phrase "scroll down".*
3. Activist, author and former President Jimmy Carter gets nothing but ridicule and polite disinterest in the American press as he tries to walk the lonely road for Israeli/Palestinian peace. Carter is getting flak for talking with Hamas, but we need more dialogue, not less, between warring parties. This is called "peacemaking". What a concept.
I think Jimmy Carter deserves more respect than he generally gets. When will journalists and bloggers stop making "cranky old peanut farmer" jokes and realize that our crusty ex-President is actually some kind of saint? Seriously, folks -- seriously. It's called "peacemaking", and I don't see anybody else out there working up a sweat.
4. Harold Augenbraum at ComicCon (via Soft Skull)
* = if you don't get this joke, for dummies.
Eco-Libris is a company created to help the book publishing industry adopt more environmentally aware practices. Activities include tree plantings in collaboration with organizations like RIPPLE Africa in countries like Malawi (shown in photo). I recently got a chance to ask the company's CEO, Raz Godelnik, a few questions.
Q: How did you first become involved in environmental causes, and how did you become involved in the specific cause behind Eco-Libris?
Raz: After I completed my MBA in Tel Aviv University, I worked as an economist and in several business development positions in high-tech and advertising industries. Following this, I served as an Advisor to Israel’s Minister of the Interior and worked on policy issues relating to foreign workers, refugees and citizenship which introduced him to social causes. It was very different from being an economist or in the high-tech industry. I felt like I was making a difference and doing something for the benefit of many groups that were, for lack of a better term, weaker groups in society. When I finished working at the ministry, I was determined to do something that would make a difference.
My interest in hemp and other environmental issues brought me to Hemper Jeans, an eco-fashion venture I co-founded that makes fashionable jeans from hemp, a more sustainable alternative to cotton. I also started writing about green business for a newspaper in Israel.
The idea of Eco-Libris started when I began thinking about paper and the environmental impacts of its production. I realized that it might take a while to get to the point where eco-friendly alternatives (from the use of recycled paper to e-books) will replace virgin paper. Then, I talked with some friends about the idea of giving people the opportunity to balance out their paper consumption by planting trees and received good feedback about it.
The decision to focus on books was made after learning that only about 5% of the paper used for printing books is made of recycled paper and because most books don’t have yet an online eco-friendly alternative (e-book), like magazines and newspapers. So, if you want a book, you usually can’t avoid purchasing the paper-made version, unless you go to the library or get it from websites like BookCrossing or BookMooch, which are all excellent choices. You also can’t tell people to stop reading books, so it seemed to me only natural to give book lovers a new alternative to make their reading habit greener -- planting trees for the books they read.
Q: I'm surprised to read on your website that even the "greenest" publishing companies don't often use recycled paper. What are the hurdles to overcome before this changes? Is there a visible difference when a book is printed on recycled paper that readers might resist? Or is it a matter of cost, or something else?
Raz: I know that it is common to think that the main problem is with the price, supply or quality of recycled paper, but I think this is not the main barrier -- recycled paper has achieved today a very high quality and it meets the same technical specifications and performs as well or even better in some cases than virgin paper. The cost is also more competitive than ever and even capacity is not an issue. Just look at the last Harry Potter that is a bestseller and was printed with partially or fully recycled paper worldwide.
Harry Potter is in my opinion a good example that this is mostly about awareness, will to make a change, vision and leadership. I definitely hope to see publishers follow this example and act to become greener. We also aim to become a strong voice of all the eco-conscious readers out there. I am positive that if publishers will know that many readers care about this issue, it will also contribute to move them towards printing books in an eco-friendly manner.
Q: Does Eco-Libris interact directly with publishing companies about these issues, and if so, at what level? What kind of response have you gotten from the publishing industry to your initiatives?
Raz: Yes, we certainly look to work with anyone involved in the book publishing industry, including bookstores, writers and publishers. We already correspond with few publishers and we receive very good feedbacks. There is more awareness to the impacts of printing books on the environment and to the need to make things differently. Our goal is to assist publishers to move in the green direction by balancing out books printed on virgin paper and increasing the awareness to the need to use more recycled paper. I see Eco-Libris as the first step towards sustainable reading and for many publishers looking to start making these steps, we're a perfect fit.
Q: To help put your company's mission into perspective, can you describe how the ecological impact of book publishing compares with, say, the ecological impact of newspapers and magazines, or (more broadly) of other industries more commonly discussed as environmental concerns, such as the automotive industry, the construction industry, etc.?
Raz: Deforestation is a significant contributor to climate change. If you look at the last IPCC report that was published this month, you can see that it is responsible for 17.4% of GHG emissions. Only energy supply and industry contribute more. You asked about cars - well, transport contributes 13.1%. Forests have also other important ecological functions, and anyone who is interested to learn more about this issue, the damages created by deforestation and the need in reforestation is invited to check out the Billion Tree Campaign of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
The paper industry on all its uses (books, newspapers, catalogs, etc.) is a large consumer of the trees cut down worldwide. Just one example - 65% of the trees cut down in the Boreal Forest in Canada are used to make paper - 80% of it goes to U.S. consumers.
Q: I've noticed that your website doesn't address the ecological difference between hardcover and paperback book publishing. Also, what about the industry's "peculiar tradition" of printing and shipping huge runs of potential bestsellers, which are more often than not shipped back and pulped? Shouldn't we examine whether or not publishers like Random House are printing (and then destroying) far more books than they can sell before we call them "green"?
Raz: There are many issues related to the book publishing industry that have environmental impacts. Eco-Libris is focused on the usage of virgin paper for printing as we see it as the most significant issue. It doesn't mean that improvements shouldn't be made in regards with other problems like the current wasteful working models. On the contrary. Still, I think you would agree with me that the materials books are made from are the basic layer of the industry -- take care of it and you got yourself an healthy foundation that can guide to more changes on the way to making this industry eventually environmental friendly.
-- Media conglomerate Gannett will use USA Today brand for book publishing. I talked to Caryn about this earlier and she made me wonder if this means that when I go on vacation and open my hotel room door, I'll find a stack of books sitting outside in the morning.
-- Pop Matters has a review of Ian McEwan's On Chesil Beach that makes me want to read the book.
-- Michael Ondaatje on writing and Divisadero. Interesting. Plus, I really like typing "Ondaatje." Ondaatje. Ondaatje. Okay, I'll stop.
-- Feministing has an interview with author Pagan Kennedy about her latest, The First Man-Made Man: The Story of Two Sex Changes, One Love Affair, and a Twentieth Century Medical Revolution.
-- Maud Newton on Somerset Maugham.
-- There's a review in the L.A. Times of Varieties of Disturbance by Lydia Davis and says that the collection "poses a series of word problems for the existentially challenged" which really sounds like my kind of book.
-- "Good artists borrow, great artists steal." (That's Picasso or T.S. Eliot or maybe someone else... take your pick.) And here's a review of a book about plagiarism.
-- American Idol: Writer Version (New York Magazine style).
-- For some light reading, here's a little something about morality and Immanuel Kant and stuff like that.
-- And finally, farewell, Miss Snark!
Grizzly Man, a new documentary film by Werner Herzog, is an astounding study of humanity and nature. It was pasted together from videotape left behind by Timothy Treadwell, a somewhat goofy and hippy-dippy outdoorsman who spent thirteen summers in a row communing with grizzly bears in Alaska.
Treadwell was not trained or licensed to interact with these dangerous animals, and he freely admitted that he would not be able to defend himself if a bear decided to kill him for food. He worked hard to establish a relationship of mutual trust and respect with the thousand-pound carnivores that surrounded him, and this worked for many years but was doomed in the end; in October 2003 a pilot flew into the area where Treadwell and his girlfriend had been camping and found a surly older grizzly bear gnawing on their scattered rib cages and limbs. Herzog put this film together as a tribute to Treadwell's life's work.
It's amazing to see a blond mop-topped skinny man wearing no protection over his t-shirt and jeans as he cavorts with grizzly bears, touches their noses, rassles with the cubs. Sometimes the bears make threatening moves towards him, and he is careful to stand his ground, explaining to the camera that they are testing him for fear or weakness.
Treadwell knows he loves the bears more than they love him, but he can't help his obsession. The camera often finds him swooning with ecstasy, rapt in loud spontaneous joy, riffing excitedly about his flowing thoughts. He almost never appears depressed on camera, though he cries over a bumblebee that he believes dead, until he sees that the bumblebee is just sleeping. The footage feels alive and refreshing because our guide is an utter unprofessional, not a park ranger or a scientist but a manic nature freak with a videocamera.
The visuals are beautiful. Treadwell sits in the grass and caresses a wild fox the way you'd pet a cat. He basks in the sun, and in one wonderful moment he chases a bear cub who stole his hat at a high speed through the brush and suddenly arrives at the bear's den, a large hole in the ground. This definitely beats Disney.
In the film's most ominous scene, shot just before Treadwell's death, he sits alongside a stream where a large grizzly with a lean and hungry look rummages for fish. Treadwell explains that this bear is older and has a harder time finding food, which makes him more likely to attack a human than the others. The evidence shows that this is the bear that did eventually kill Treadwell and his girlfriend (whose family has opted not to be involved with this film or to seek publicity).
Treadwell was moderately famous for his bear affinity while he was alive. He wrote a book, cofounded a non-profit and appeared on the David Letterman show (the segment is included in this film; Letterman asks Treadwell whether or not a bear will eventually eat him, and the crowd laughs).
Over and over, the real-life character onscreen made me think of Henry David Thoreau, another complex man who could only find joy in the isolation of the woods. Not that I think Thoreau wouldn't have called Treadwell a fool; Thoreau lived in the wilderness but he didn't intend to die there.
The film also called to mind another literary hermit who escaped to the woods, Jack Kerouac, who spent long periods in meditation and alcoholic recovery on mountaintops in the Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountains. Treadwell is also a recovering alcoholic, and this seems to explain something about his passionate relationship with the outdoors (it is his salvation) as well, perhaps, about his reckless fatalism and need for the adrenalin of danger.
Werner Herzog's treatment of this material is respectful and artistic. A Kuro5hin article about this film mentions that the theme of this film echoes that of an earlier Herzog film, Fitzcarraldo which I haven't seen but plan to.
Aside from its fascinating human story, Grizzly Man also represents cinema verite taken to a new level of stark realism. As in the Blair Witch Project, the film is spliced together from videotape found at a murder scene. But in Blair Witch Project the actors didn't really die.
I caught this film on the Discovery Channel, and I hope they will be running it again soon.
Near the beginning of Gary Snyder's new Danger on Peaks, the poet asks, "Who wouldn't take the chance to climb a snowpeak and get the long view?" While the question is part of a piece about climbing Mt. St. Helens, it can be read as an invitation as well -- who wouldn't take the chance to follow him into Danger on Peaks and see the view? The long view -- mountains and loved ones (past and present) and the land -- offers glimpses of "beings living or not, beings or not,/ inside or outside of time", and is one well worth beholding.
But the book is more than just a pretty view. Informed by Snyder's Buddhist ethic, it gives us a way to look at what we see, and it's clear throughout the book -- from the peaks of upheaval to the valley between them -- that the cycle itself has something to teach us if we'll pay attention.