Mervyn: Edgar, what are you doing?
Edgar: I’m reading a book.
M: What is a book?
E: A collection of paper pages with writing on them.
M: What is paper?
E: It’s a thin flat surface made from wood?
M: How is that done?
E: Trees are chopped down and chipped and then made into a mush. The mush is dried and flattened and cut into pages.
M: What trees?
E: Special forests of trees that are grown to make paper.
M: So earthlings grow trees just to cut them down to make paper?
E: Yes. But we recycle a lot of old paper to make more paper.
M: For books?
E: Yes, and toilet paper and kitchen towels and tissues and many other things.
M: What a disgustingly messy breed you earthlings are! But back to books. What purpose do they serve?
E: People read them to find information about a whole range of things. And for their amusement.
M: What do you mean ‘amusement’?
E: Well, for example, novels.
M: What is a novel?
E: It’s long story that contains characters the author has invented.
M: So these ‘characters’ are not real?
M: So you earthlings chop down trees to print books about things that are not real? ‘Lies’ I think you call them.
E: Well, that’s one way of looking at it.
M: Do you have many books?
E: In fact I do but I also use the library a lot.
M: What is a library?
E: It is a building where many books are kept so that people can consult them and borrow them.
M: And do all these books get read?
E: Some a lot, most hardly ever.
M: So why do you not recycle all these books instead of chopping down trees?
E: Because they are a repository of human knowledge and creativity.
M: Which almost no-one reads. Besides, you are an enlightened earthling who can find out everything that is important via your computer.
E: Well, not everything. A lot of it lives in people’s brains and is passed on verbally.
M: I am, of course, familiar with that poorly developed form of storage and your imprecise transmission methods. Why have your people never evolved?
E: We’re working on it. In the meantime, I’m writing a novel.
M: What will this ‘long story’ be about?
E: About a man who has conversations with a Martian.
M: But that’s not a lie, it’s true.
E: Only if I say so, Mervyn.