Sustainable Summer Reading Habits

If you’re anything like us, your bookshelf is filled with ever-growing stacks of books you have every intention of reading…just as soon as you get the time. Sophie Parsons shares her tips on how best to manage your reading list in the most sustainable way.

Reading is a luxury that many of us claim to not have time for, instead we opt for scrolling through social media or binge-watching television as a form of relaxation. Getting lost in someone else’s narrative offers a mindfulness that cannot be replicated with a screen, offering a counter to the mindlessness of scrolling online. According to The New York Times’s Mindful Reading guide, it is about “find[ing] a window of time when you can focus on your reading, rather than trying to squeeze it into a busy day or get a few pages in before bedtime.” Perhaps this is the appeal of a summer read; seemingly endless time where hours spent on sun-loungers and beach towels can be whole-heartedly devoted to someone else’s story.

Conscious consumption is a concept that encourages us to only buy what need, carefully considering our purchases to both limit our waste and our spending. Books are not exempt from this. Last minute buys in airport newsagents are often left unread, bought out of haste rather than genuine intrigue. Bedside book stacks, bought with all the best intentions, simply grow as we are, again, enticed by the latest release everyone but you seems to be reading on the morning commute. Sustainable reading is about finding a way to continue to work your way through long to-read lists, without accumulating more.

Book Swaps

Swapping and borrowing are at the foundation of many sustainable practices, be it clothes or books; circulating our belongings enables us to experience newness without contributing to otherwise unsustainable industries. Reading is so often based on recommendations, with prize lists highlighting newsworthy authors and friends excitedly detailing their latest book find. Once a book is done with, very rarely do we pick it up again for a second or third read. Instead, give your books a new lease of life and start a book swap with friends, each circulating pre-loved books with one another in return for a new read. Create a book club with a twist; rather than reading five of the same book, rotate your most recent reads and find yourself with an additional four books added to your pile, as well as an insight into the most loved books of your most loved.

Join Your Local Library

Local libraries offer the possibility for book borrowing on a much larger scale, with the opportunity to work through your exact reading list one by one, with precision and zero spending. Being a member of the library is has perhaps been forgotten, along with school summer reading challenges and books with pictures. In addition to a growing disconnect to our local libraries, lacking government funding has left many libraries facing closure, with 2016 seeing as many as 343 having been forced to shut. Book prices often seem near extravagant, making the library’s free access to almost any and every book one of its biggest appeals. There is a simple joy in these quiet spaces where walls and shelves are lined with much-loved books of every kind; beyond that of every genre of fiction, there are shelves dedicated to biographies, history, travel, large-print to name but a few, offering books for every kind of reader. They even accommodate for those with specific agendas, offering reservation services and the chance to order books to your closest branch.

Buy Second Hand

If you can’t quite part with investing in your own books, charity shops and second hand bookshops are filled with both classics and contemporary literature at a fraction of the price. These books are additionally tied in with charitable good deeds, supporting good causes whilst limiting our own consumption and spending – what’s not to love? Even if your second hand bookshop of choice isn’t charity focused, often small and independently run, these bookshops are the antithesis of the high-street giants, filled with dusty books, bent spines and a smell best described as antique. If new is what you’re looking for, however, supporting independent bookshops has never been so important. In these small and local book havens, owners are eager to share recommendations and suggestions, with their infectious enthusiasm making it almost impossible to leave empty-handed. Looking to buy online? makes it easy to support small when shopping for your latest summer reads, with an extensive range of both contemporary and classic books – and the best bit is that you can choose which independent bookshop your money goes to support.

Book Clubs

Sustainable reading can also extend beyond our buying habits to the content we are engaging with. Non-fiction books offer the opportunity for education on all matter of topics, with some of our favourites inspiring our inner climate activists. If fiction is your genre of choice, Instagram book club Belletrist recommends predominantly female authored contemporary literature. Alternatively, Emma Watson’s #OurSharedShelf campaign is derived from working with UN Women, ‘reading as many books and essays about equality’ as possible. Now an online Goodreads group, the campaign to get more people reading thought-provoking books has spread beyond that of hiding books around the subway to a global community, with good books at the heart of it. Whether you get your book recommendations from your friends, the newspaper’s best seller list or a celebrity’s social media, learning how to indulge yourself in the wonderful world of books without accumulating even more stuff can make your ‘want to read’ list seem both achievable and sustainable.

Discover our best suggestions for kids books to inspire little activists.

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Using books to hide from a rainy day? Try our other conscious indoor activities.