Paper: An Elegy by Ian Sansom (William Morrow, May 2013)
Even in the electronic age, human beings are predisposed to using paper daily; even as our bills, our books and our newspapers go digital, there is still a piece of paper in everyone’s life that they hold near and dear: a card from an old flame, a picture drawn as a child or even the wallpaper that covers our walls. Birth and death certificates are still issued in paper. Even when we type on a typical word processor, the visual effect is often that we are typing on a piece of paper; our ebook reader “pages” are still numbered in the traditional sense. Ian Sansom, who wrote a mystery trilogy featuring a bookmobile traces the history, and usefulness of paper from the obvious (toilet paper) to paper as an art form, both the most intricate Scherenschnitte (German paper cutting) to the ubiquitous paper airplane. Sansom traces paper back to its roots in China over two thousand years ago and estimates that Americans use close to half a ton of paper (each) every year. Sansom’s tone shifts between casual, anecdotal passages to more thoroughly researched and scholarly information and by his own admission is not by any means a comprehensive history of paper, rather an homage to something very few of us would be able to do completely without. A beautifully constructed book jacket brings many of Sansom's arguments full circle. To paraphrase Mark Twain: The rumors of paper’s death have been greatly exaggerated.