The Hermit & the Bookstore

I used to think authors were hermits who spent a lot of time sitting in a darkened study packed to the rafters with books, contemplating their next work with knitted brow. Every once in a while, they might become daring and go outside for a walk.

(I’m reading The Magician right now, about the life of German author Thomas Mann and that seems to pretty accurately describe much of his life.)

Did Thomas Mann feel this way when his books arrived? More importantly, did his hair look better?

While this authorial stereotype may once have borne some relation to reality, today authors can’t exist in seclusion. With everything there is to see, watch, know or be informed about— diet fads! Crypto-Catastrophe! Kardashians! Amazon Hates When People Do This! Doctors Stunned! Contemporary authors compete more than ever before for mere slivers of attention, in a world where attention is the currency of the moment.

Through all the noise and mental clutter sprayed at us with firehose intensity every day, it’s a wonder people still manage to find books at all. I’m not quite sure how to explain it, but find them, they still do. Incredibly, new independent bookstores are on the rise and, although fully one quarter of American adults haven’t read a book in the last year, book sales have nevertheless been rising every year for the last decade.

Author Silliness. Yes this is my job.

No matter what, it’s good news for people like me who write books, and hope people will read them. But that doesn’t mean I will be pondering the shadows of my darkened study anytime soon. Instead, you will find me on social media wearing fake mustaches and putting egg cartons on my head, all in an attempt to demand a few seconds of attention with which I can point to my book and its subject matter. In the process, I’m having a surprising amount of fun and learning skills I never thought I’d have. And every once in a while, I think: wow is this so… not what I expected my job description to entail.

If you’ve already pre-ordered Year of No Garbage, then I love you and you are my new best friend. Thank you.

If you prefer to purchase it on April 18th just in time for Earth Day, (And Earth Day gift-giving? Which I just invented?!) you are clearly a fabulous person with amazingly good taste. Thank you.

Either way, I encourage you to take a moment one day soon and go explore your local independent bookstore, packed to the rafters with books. They are some of the most wonderful places in the world.

It’s Time for a Garbage Makeover

Who doesn’t love a good makeover? I’d say our poor, neglected garbage cans are definitely overdue. I mean, we all recycle and throw things away every day, but there’s so much misinformation out there that I feel like we need a Garbage Czar— or at the very least a Garbage Miss Manners— to help us all get the facts straight.

I officially volunteer.

Here are just a few facts to help revamp the way you discard:

Paper, cardboard and boxboard

Paper, cardboard and boxboard (what cereal boxes are made of) are of course, all recyclable. We do a pretty decent job of it too: according to the EPA 68% of paper produced gets recycled. But what about if your envelopes or boxboard or cardboard have little cellophane windows? Or stickers?

Turns out that when paper gets to the mill for recycling, it is shredded and then pulped in giant vats with water and chemicals to help break it down. This liquid is then run through screens to remove paperclips, staples, cellophane, tape and anything else that isn’t paper. No worries! Your phone book with the binding still intact, and your pasta box with the plastic window? Is still getting recycled.


Glass is of course recyclable. Glass gets sorted by color and then pulverized. Broken glass gets filtered through a series of screens which separate out non-glass material, after which heat is introduced which burns away remaining paper and other non-glass bits.

Here’s the problem though: because so many garbage services have switched to single stream collection, glass is getting broken and hard to sort in the waste stream. Even though glass manufacturers want this material, the U.S. has never managed to recycle more than 30% of glass produced, whereas the EU recycles 75 % of its glass. Proof that single stream isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

All will fear the wrath of the confused-looking Garbage Czar


Tinfoil is one of those things most people probably don’t realize they can recycle as long as it is clean: just lay it on the sink bottom and drag your sponge across it in horizontal strokes, then lay it in the dish drainer to dry.

The trick is to save up a bunch of pieces of tin foil so you can ball them up into the size of a potato or a softball- just big enough to ensure they won’t fall through the cracks of the recycling sorting system. Or- now that its clean- you could reuse it!


Multilayers are one of those materials that you’ve probably never heard of that are absolutely everywhere: chip and snack bags, frozen food bags, coffee bags, much of the shrink wrapping around meats, salad mix bags, pet treat bags… They’re all made with Frankenstein combinations of micro-thin layers of many different kinds of plastic and foil, mylar, paper and still more plastic.

Recyclable? Not in a million years.

Rigid plastic

Rigid plastic doesn’t get recycled most of the time. In fact, 95% of plastic produced does not get recycled- with those odds, trying to recycle your plastic is like trying to win the lottery.

Technically the plastics marked with RIC numbers (resin identification code- the numbers inside the chasing arrow triangle) 1 and 2 have the very best chance. On the other hand, recycled plastics have their own unique set of problems, so there’s an argument to be made we shouldn’t be recycling them at all- more on this in a future post.

Garbage Miss Manners always puts things on her head

Plastic Wrap

Plastic Wrap manufacturers want you to think their product is recyclable. If you call many of them and ask, as I did, they’ll tell you it is. The problem is that it totally isn’t: no one wants this stuff gumming up the works at their recycling center- period.

Instead, why not head over to Grandma’s, or the local charity resale shop and pick yourself up some pretty, lidded Pyrex? This was plastic wrap before plastic wrap was invented, and you know what? It is beautiful, functional, and infinitely reusable.

Do YOU have a Garbage Makeover question? Ask me! I am the Czar after all. AND I have a tin foil tiara.