Once upon a time we knew (however much we circumvented their purpose by misspelling them) exactly what the Three Rs were: Reading, (w)Riting and ‘Rithmetic. (And yes, spellcheck has helpfully underlined for me Rs, Riting and Rithmetic.) Nowadays primary school kids know all about targets for literacy and numeracy, but the Three Rs mean something different: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. I’ve been thinking recently about how they might apply to books, and have been coming up with some conundrums.
When it comes to reducing we’re told to “buy only what you need.” Hmm. Do I need books? Philosophically, yes. Do I need that particular book? The one that sits temptingly on a bookshop shelf? Maybe not. There’s more: “Reduce unnecessary waste by avoiding those pointless purchases. Items that rarely get used can be borrowed or shared with others.”
Let’s take a detour around that for a moment. Borrowing? Well I do go to the library to borrow some books, particularly those I’m unlikely to want to keep. And I do pass on, share in fact, books that I’m unlikely to read again. So I guess that I’m doing my bit for reduction. But already I’m feeling sorry for authors. If I borrow from the library then at least authors in the UK stand to gain something — a pittance, perhaps — from Public Lending Right payments. But if I borrow from friends those authors will definitely miss out. And if I buy from a charity shop, yes, somebody gains but it’s not going to be an author, is it. *Dilemma alert.*
And then there’s reusing books. “Many items found around the home can be used for different purposes. So before you throw those items away, think about how they can be reused.” Do you reuse books? Do you drill a hole in a pile of books, pass an electric cord through it and repurpose them as a table lamp? Do you glue old hardbacks together and turn them into a doorstop, or recast them as steps to reach those awkward places near the ceiling? Beautiful as they seem, and works of art as so many of them are, where do you stand vis-à-vis book sculptures? Do you not at some level feel disturbed by them? Are they not, in a way, sacrilegious?
Luckily http://www.recycling-guide.org.uk gives us a way out of this moral impasse by advising us to Donate Old Clothes and Books: “Other people can reuse your unwanted clothes and books when you donate them to charity shops.” (But see above, the *dilemma alert.*)
Finally, recycling. Let’s be clear about this. Recycling means separating the product into its constituent materials. Bluntly, that means destroying books so that not only are they not worth the paper they’re printed on but they no longer are the paper they were once printed on. Do you get me?
But paper is paper and can go into the appropriate recycling receptacle; or it can be composted. “Composting is a process where waste degrades into compost, which can then be used in your garden to help it grow.” It’s not generally advised, I understand, because of the chemicals in printing ink, but in moderation I don’t it’s dangerous. (We used to compost old newspapers and they never did us any harm. I hope.) But a little bit of me dies when I think of ripping up an old paperback, even one that isn’t very good. *Dilemma alert.*
I’m on safer ground with this advice: “Buy products that have been made from recycled material. You can tell if a product is eco-friendly by looking at the label on the packaging.” Many publishers subscribe to the FSC’s “tick tree” logo: this is used on product labels to indicate whether products are certified under the Forest Stewardship Council system. “When you see the FSC logo on a label you can buy timber and other wood products, such as paper, with the confidence that you are not contributing to the destruction of the world’s forests.”
These then are my conundrums to do with the Three Rs of books. My main one is that provocative phrase “pointless purchases”. I’m no longer a compulsive purchaser (even though I remain a compulsive browser), and I’ve been working hard with the Three Ds: decluttering, discarding, downsizing. Now when I purchase a book it is never pointless. I want it, in a sense I need it. But not everyone (and that includes nearest and dearest) would agree with me. And that’s a dilemma that I shall have to work out for myself.
I foolishly promised photos of my newly painted and
reorganised bookshelves following a house move.
These aren’t them