24 October 2008

Going Green in the Bookstore

Last night I attended one of M. T. Anderson's readings of The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, volume the second. Also there were Gareth Hinds, creator of the Merchant of Venice graphic novel; Liza Ketchum, author of Where the Great Hawk Flies; and Anindita Sempere, co-director of next spring's SCBWI New England conference.

Not there, at least in great numbers, were Young Adults. Which is curious, given that Octavian Nothing is officially a Young Adult novel, and will soon appear on the New York Times bestseller list for children's books. It was a school night, to be sure. But it was also a work night, and there were enough of us Old Adults to leave folks standing in the aisles. Perhaps in future the Octavian Nothing saga will be considered adult literature.

But back to the here and now. At that event I also had the pleasure of meeting Alison Morris of the Wellesley Booksmith and the Shelftalker blog. I've had her post about "green" books in my to-think-about pile for a week. She wrote:

I've been noticing a marked increase in the number of publishers who claim to be "going green" in one way or another. For many of them "going green" has meant creating a new imprint that uses eco-safe materials and/or donates money to environmental causes.

DK, for example, has a new line called "Made with Care." They claim that these books are their "greenest books ever, made with the most ethical and environmental processes [they] could source." Meanwhile Simon and Schuster's Little Green Books "will be made from recycled materials, and the storylines will cover subjects such as improving the environment, learning about endangered animals, recycling, and much more."

I have mixed feelings about initiatives like these that ultimately just create more "stuff" even if that "stuff" is being created out of recycled materials. Rather than create a new line of books that are specifically more eco-friendly, why not just make ALL of your existing, or at least forthcoming books more eco-friendly?
Most likely there isn't enough recycled paper of the proper quality to make it possible to print all books on it and maintain either (a) the current supply of books in stores, or (b) the current prices on those books. So better to use that paper on titles whose target audience cares most about the effort. Will publishers or the larger audience be willing to make the sacrifices required to go all-"green"? Or, to put in more slangily, what kind of "green" do people care most about?

One of the Shelftalker commenters touts electronic books as the environmental choice. I'd also be interested in seeing an environmental-impact study of print-on-demand publishing compared to traditional printing. POD promises fewer unwanted copies, but does it come with other costs?


david elzey said...

You know, back when I was employed as a bookseller before the economy tanked, I never sold a single Octavian Nothing book to a single YA reader; always to parents and teachers and adults who preferred to read YA. Same with The Book Thief.

It isn't that I don't think these books aren't read and loved by YA readers, but they aren't exactly "cool" to read or talk about. You'll find armies of Nerdfighters fighting to get into a reading by John Green (at least I did last week) but even if these same folks read and loved Octavian or even Feed they aren't the kinds of books, and Anderson isn't necessarily the kind of author, that brings readers out to public events. For better or worse.

When we live in a climate where politicians can claim intelligence as elitism and snobbery, yo can be sure the message is getting passed down to young adults: don't let them see how smart you are, stay home and read, but don't tell a soul.

J. L. Bell said...

I think I recall seeing teenagers going up to Anderson at other events to talk about Feed. But that’s quite a different book. (And I might be remembering teenagers going up to Brian Bell to talk about Weezer.)

Personally, I’m on tenterhooks waiting for Jasper Dash.