I Ain’t Got No Papercuts


I was a very odd child.

While reading books in elementary school, I would tear little pieces from the book and eat it while reading. The best bits were the soft covers of the Harry Potter books. Looking back onto my collection of Harry Potter, lining the shelves among other fantastical stories, the covers are tattered and worn.

My cousin’s dog Chloe laying on my copy of Winters Heart by Robert Jordan.

I didn’t start valuing the paper of the books until I started reading the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan. I noticed that in these hard covered books, the paper was thicker.

And I had grown up so I stopped eating paper. Shush.

Anything having to do with publishing and printing books has me fascinated, yet I’m not a science-y type of person. I’m a writer through and through. But after reading “From Gutenberg to the Printing Press”, an article edited by Jeremy M. Norton, there was a section that caught my attention:

“The  word written on parchment will last a thousand years. The printed word is on paper. How long will it last? The most you can expect a book of paper to survive is two hundred years. Yet, there are many who think they can entrust their works to paper, only time can tell” (36).

First I was thinking of the modern technology and computers to make things last and how others claim that anything written on a computer will last for eternity. But there is also something called “electronic decay” (links that have stopped working, or the pathways to websites have changed, or content is deleted. All of these issues can cause work online to disappear forever.), which is a topic for another day. There was something much more relevant that didn’t pop up straight away for me.

The actual paper we commonly use everyday.

If you go to Staples paper you will find all the different type of paper you can buy. And there’s more than that. The writer of “Gutenberg to the Printing Press” is correct. Handcrafted paper will last longer than mass produced paper.

Midnight sitting on Winters Heart by Robert Jordan

Don’t believe me?

Well shame on you for not believing a stranger off the internet. We would never lie to you.

(Just remember to not look, or think, about the dog park)

To prove it to you, my reader sir, I’ve done the research for you.

Paper, handmade before the 19th century, was made with material such as cotton, linen, and hemp. The fibers produced by homemade paper are longer. When paper is mass produced, the paper is churned longer and the fibers that connect the paper together are more fragile. The wood that makes the paper as well shorten the fibers. (information from the Library of Congress, check it out here)

Addie lying on one of my books

It takes a while to make paper by hand, and the rate of demand that early Europe was taking on prompted paper makers to start inventions. Lothian Health Services Archive writes

The first papermaking machine was invented in 1798 by Nicholas-Louis Robert. This mechanical pulping and formation resulted in shorter fibres and also unintentionally introduced metallic particles into the paper resulting in a weaker sheet”

so I’m not totally nutty.

The substance used to make the paper and the process of how it’s made really determines how long that paper might last, including a few extraneous details, like the proper care of a book.

Like not eating the damned paper while reading.

Addie sitting on my notebook as I try to study for pre-calc my senior year of high school

Leaving a book in moist areas can lead to mold. Bugs can find their way into the book and eat the paper (I swear I’m not a book bug, though maybe a book worm). The chemicals used in producing the book, even chemicals that come into contact with the papers, can start deteriorating the paper. In mass paper making, minuscule metal bits can get into the mush and that will actually weaken the paper as well.

Nimfa R. Maravilla, a chemical engineer who joined the National Historical Institute’s (NHI) Materials Conservation Center (MCC) in 1984 wrote about the deteroration of paper as well:

The materials of which library and archive collections are composed, namely paper, parchment, palm leaves, birch bark, leather and adhesives used in bookbinding, are susceptible to two main forms of deterioration. One is biological deterioration caused by insect attack and/or fungal growth, and the other form of deterioration is caused by adverse environmental conditions such as extremes of dampness or wide fluctuations in relative humidity associated with large variations in day and night temperatures, light and atmospheric pollutants. These two forms of deterioration are interconnected because humid conditions favor the growth of fungi and accumulations of dust and dirt will attract insects.

My dad, beardless, with Addie perched like a bird. 

Paper is a fickle thing. You can burn it. You can eat it (please don’t eat it), you can take notes, draw, paint, form into objects. It’s near the essence of creativity, and no matter how advanced technology gets, paper is a tool I believe we as a human race will always rely back onto.

Maybe we should start questioning if the word we write down want to be preserved for 20 – 100 years, or if we only want them to last for a year? If we want what we dirty the clean paper with to last, how will we change our storing techniques to preserve the creativity we share worldwide?

If you would like more information on the deterioration of paper with more scientific wording or advice on how to take care of books, check out the websites I read:

Nimfa R. Maravilla

Lothian Health Services Archive

Library of Congress

If you would like to comment on this post, please do.

2 Chickens 1 Rooster being watched by two cats in the window.
Kirsten Staller is a junior at SUNY Oswego. She is a Creative Writing major with a minor in Business Administration. She aims to work in a publishing company, loves her cats, and her tea. She hails from the village of Quaker Hill, Connecticut. Though she lives on a farm, she is not a farmer. Writer through and through.




4 thoughts on “I Ain’t Got No Papercuts

Add yours

  1. I think the idea of “electronic decay” is super interesting and really important to note– I used the idea of electronic advancements in my post and I didn’t even think to consider that, so that was really eye opening. I also liked the use of the personal images (who doesn’t love a good pet photo?)
    I think if there was a little more focus on the electronic side so each side would be equal that would be a really interesting touch– each side would be leveled out a bit more, and what other negative things come with the electronic advancements? I also think just contrasting those two things would give it another angle, but that’s been a common theme with the blog posts so I’m not entirely sure if that’s a good recommendation or not.
    All in all, this was really great to read!


  2. Your post was very entertaining. As someone who also used to eat paper (don’t tell anybody) I found your opening anecdote funny and a little too relatable. You managed to make the history of paper interesting and I’d say that’s a pretty impressive feat. I appreciate the amount of research that you put into this article and the seemingly unrelated pet photos. The conversational tone makes it pleasant to read and doesn’t make the information feel stale or overwhelming.

    If I were to give any suggestion it would be to remove the part about modern technology all together as it doesn’t exactly tie in with the rest of the article and like you wrote “is a topic for another day.” While it’s used as a bridge into the rest of the article it’s not really referred to later on.


  3. I did enjoy your post, I think your introductory statement is a great lure, and it definitely got me reading it. One of the things I’d note about your information though, is that you said that things affect how long modern paper will last, but I don’t off the top of my head recall you saying how long modern paper would actually last in ideal conditions. Or even how long on average. Maybe it’s in there and I glossed over it, but I feel like I’d like that to be more displayed.
    I do agree, I think paper is near the essence of human creativity, between writing, drawing, or even sculpting. Have you ever seen sculptures made from books? Here’s an example.

    I think it’s good to not how important paper has become, to strive to keep it relevant, (avoiding, if we can, electronic decay,)and knowing how long it will live for and what we can do with it. Good post.


  4. Really fantastic work! Your entry provides thought-provoking information (how long will our words really last?!) in a conversational, effective voice.

    I second the suggestion above. I think these would be a great final piece with just a little more info on the similarities (or differences) between electronic and paper decay.


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