I definitely love the idea of this book, but I found many of the projects a little too off-the-grid for what I'm willing or able to try at this point....moreI definitely love the idea of this book, but I found many of the projects a little too off-the-grid for what I'm willing or able to try at this point. But I do appreciate that the authors anticipate that, and encourage you to try the ideas that seem intriguing to you and leave the rest for another person or another day. When my current cleaning supplies run out, I am excited to try their mixes. I am not, however, willing to brush my teeth with a stick. I also get frustrated any time I read books or blogs of this type that I live in an apartment with no outdoor space at all and little control of the temperatures in my apartment, so there are many projects that I would like to try, but can't given my situation. That is no reflection on the quality of the ideas--or perhaps reflects well because of my inherent interest, despite my circumstances. But it was the case that quite a few of the projects were of no use to me until I have a home and yard of my own.(less)
I wanted to give this book five stars. I really did, because I really enjoyed reading it. Michael Pollan is an engaging writer who makes me want to ge...moreI wanted to give this book five stars. I really did, because I really enjoyed reading it. Michael Pollan is an engaging writer who makes me want to get up and do precisely as he says that moment--go to my garden and pick things--hell, plant more things! Cook real food and eat it slowly with relish (while the garden party scene from the film Chocolat plays in my mind). Honestly, these are all things that I do with some frequency already, so I also got to have a slight sense of superiority while reading his recommendations. He also eased my mind quite a bit about nutritional dilemmas I have developed in recent months. Should I switch to a vegan diet (brought on by the documentary film Forks over Knives, which pissed me off in so many ways, but has nonetheless crept into my foodie conscience) because that's the healthiest way for people to eat? Or should I go for this new-fangled paleo diet, even though it strikes me a both stupid (really? Beans, with all their protein and fiber and nutrients are bad for me? I think you're full of it, people) and an environmental blight for encouraging so much meat eating? Pollan's argument is that either of these could be healthy diets, though neither is really guaranteed to be healthy (potato chips are vegan, you know, and I could eat all the industrial, feedlot beef I can stuff into my face on a paleo diet). I'm with him there, and I feel better now.
But I was immediately and continually skeptical of his science bashing. I'm a social scientist, so I have no particular expertise to call bullshit on any of his claims about the poor state of nutritional science, but a quick look through Goodreads reviews by nutritionists confirmed some of my thoughts that he might be playing as fast and loose with his own interpretations as he claims the scientists are. But I'll just let you look through those knowledgeable people's reviews yourself rather than trying to duplicate them.
Despite this major flaw, however, I think that in the end Pollan's major arguments in this book are good ones. Eat food, not too much, mostly plants. Also, eat slowly and communally. Know where your food comes from, and if it's within walking or biking distance of you, all the better. Eat foods in season, and don't eat "foods" that have no season and instead will linger indefinitely. On these points I think his philosophy of common sense and cultural legacy is good enough, and would improve most of our diets and health greatly. In the end, I'm with him.(less)
I love Barbara Kingsolver with an enthusiasm I have rarely felt for a person I don't actually know. Partly that's because I feel I do know her, becaus...moreI love Barbara Kingsolver with an enthusiasm I have rarely felt for a person I don't actually know. Partly that's because I feel I do know her, because she willingly includes so many details of her own life in her books. And partly it's because she eloquently writes so many of my own thoughts and feelings into books that find their way into thousands of homes and minds, and it comforts me to know that I am not the only one who thinks like this. There is a champion of these ideas for peace and nature and humanity who has a meaningfully large audience of diverse, thoughtful people. I agree with her to such a degree that I sometimes wonder if she has secretly followed me and recorded my public and private musings to publish as her own, and then I realize how arrogant I am and just glory in the fact that I am not the only one.
This collection of essays--a format I have rarely read apart from those my students have handed to me--allows readers a glimpse into many moments of Kingsolver's life, and it is clear that this is a collection of the topics and musings that are most important to her. She covers nature, history, war and militarism, patriotism, sexism, being both a parent and a child, vegetables, her daughter's love of chickens and of eating their eggs, her other daughter's amazingly precocious wisdom, and poetry. Written out like this, they seem as though they may be largely unconnected themes for one relatively short book, but it's clear that the connecting thread is Kingsolver's passion for them all, and she brings her readers with her in this story of the wonders of the natural world, along with both the wonders and horrors created by we humans who live in it.(less)
I am a huge proponent of simple living and buying only what I really need. I was excited to read this book because it seemed to fit my philosophy perf...moreI am a huge proponent of simple living and buying only what I really need. I was excited to read this book because it seemed to fit my philosophy perfectly. I was only kind of right. Dave Bruno is really interested in having few possessions, but exercises it in a way I can't understand. He had this jacket that he absolutely loved. In an effort to get below 100 personal things, he got rid of it (and actually would have been able to keep it and stay under 100). Later he tried to replace it but found the replacements inadequate. I don't understand a minimalist philosophy that includes getting rid of items you use and love to meet an artificial standard of minimalism that will lead you to buy a replacement.
Also, his lack of need for a variety of clothes seems quite inapplicable to much of the country. I live in the north. I cannot only have 7 shirts and one jacket that will serve me for the entire year. But one of the strengths of Bruno's book is his openness to having everyone adapt this challenge to fit their own life.
One of my other critiques is the rambling nature of this book. It seemed like a very extended blog entry that took a long, LONG time to get to the point.
One point that I think Bruno made well though was in getting rid of his power tools. I questioned that decision initially because I figured he'd end up buying more--he used them as a productive, active hobby. But they didn't provide satisfaction for him. He did not have the time to become as proficient at creating things as he wanted and they took time away from other hobbies he would rather have been doing. I think that was a moment of growth.(less)
In Overdressed Elizabeth Cline details the problems with what she terms "fast fashion:" the cheap clothing that has permeated nearly the entire market...moreIn Overdressed Elizabeth Cline details the problems with what she terms "fast fashion:" the cheap clothing that has permeated nearly the entire market, making it almost impossible to find well made clothes that were made by someone earning a fair wage.
I appreciated all of the points she made... the first time. The major flaw of this book is that it is about 100 pages too long. Cline repeats herself over and over during the first 2/3 of the book. And while she emphasizes many times that cheap materials put together by rushed, underpaid laborers have become the status quo throughout the market, she also seems to focus heavily on H&M. I think that's because that is the store where her own addiction to fast fashion began and thrived. But it's worth reemphasizing that nearly all clothes from nearly all stores are designed and produced in the same way. And toward the end of the book she focuses on a friend who has switched to sewing her own clothes as a way out of the fast fashion market, but a friend of mine who sews well told me that the fabrics available in most fabric stores are of no better quality that what is being used in the sweatshops. So sewing your own can reduce your contribution to abusive garment factories and ensure a higher quality of workmanship (assuming you're capable of a higher quality of workmanship), but you are still using substandard fabric that was likely put together in a factory that runs many of the same humanitarian problems as the garment factories.
What Cline's book leaves out is the most crucial aspect, and that is political action against the practices of fast fashion. We cannot rid ourselves of this style of market because it is too pervasive in our society. You simply have no other option if you cannot afford high end fashion. Any market changes in this industry will have to be spurred on by political action, yet Cline leaves that aspect out of her book entirely. It's a shame.(less)
I had several worries going into this book. The first was that it was going to be a dull litany of statistics that I would soon glaze over (mind you,...moreI had several worries going into this book. The first was that it was going to be a dull litany of statistics that I would soon glaze over (mind you, I have taught many a statistics class, but this STILL worried me). Seeing an endorsement from Bill Bryson on the cover alleviated this to a large degree, however. And my trust in Bill has never yet been misplaced. Despite a heavy reliance on statistics, charts, and technicalities for the meat of the book, Berners-Lee works in a lovely dose of British wit. I wonder if Brits find him equally amusing, or if we find it funnier because the language is that much more charming to our Yankee ears. That being said, however, I did find that the numbers he gave had little meaning for me. I understood that the things I read about first were not so bad and the things I was reading about later were perpetually worse, but beyond that, I retained very little sense of the proportion that he was trying to convey. My mind, mathematically inclined though it is, was far more focused on the British humor of the narratives than on the numbers. This is one of very few books that I'm sorry I borrowed from the library rather than owning, because I feel I could glean much more of the math if I could periodically take a closer look at the numbers without re-reading the narrative. But I feel that I did come away with a good sense of what he discussed in words rather than leaving in numbers.
My second worry was that reading this book would simply paralyze me by making me unwilling to do anything that causes a carbon footprint (dear lord, I'm flying--FLYING!--home for Christmas in a few weeks. It's less than 400 miles, but I may as well just chop down a few hundred trees while I'm at it), or at the very least cause me to develop over-elaborate rituals to make my actions as carbon friendly as possible. The fact that he started with the carbon footprint of a single text message, something that had never been on my radar of Terrible Things I'm Doing to the Planet, made this even worse. I may indeed start pouring my water for tea into a cup and then use a funnel to get just that amount into the kettle to avoid boiling more than necessary. But perhaps you don't share my neuroses. In fact, Berners-Lee explicitly encourages you not to. Repeatedly. It's probably not his fault that I am riddled with carbon guilt, since I knew that would happen before I started, but I do seem to be the target audience here, given my propensity to care a lot.
And given that I was more into the narrative than the numbers, I was also a Very Bad Academic, and didn't bother to check a single one of his endnotes as I read. I noted that he had lots of them (good!), and that he has several degrees in science (very good!), and he further made it very explicit many times that he was making only semi-justifiable guesstimates with his numbers. So I decided to just implicitly trust him that he had done the work he claimed to and had backing from legitimate sources as he claimed to. If I'm wrong about that and he's playing me for a fool, at least I'll be a very self-satisfied fool as I measure out my tea water each day and smugly bike to work.(less)
Whatever Kahn's intended purpose was with this book, it did not mesh with what I was looking for. I am just beginning to explore the idea that I may p...moreWhatever Kahn's intended purpose was with this book, it did not mesh with what I was looking for. I am just beginning to explore the idea that I may possibly one day choose to live in a tiny home. I appreciated the different varieties of homes profiled in this book, but could have used much more detail about them. It seems that the owners of each one just sent some photographs to be published along with their letters saying they'd love to be featured in the book and a couple interesting details about their home. I was looking for some more practical information, like floor plans, how people have chosen to balance trade-offs between, say, a bit more storage space and designated eating nook. I wanted to hear whether people who have chosen ladders to sleeping lofts rather than committing enough space to a staircase are happy with that decision after living with it for a while. I was also hoping for some answers about whether and how people successfully combine tiny house living with true homesteading (e.g., space to preserve food and store it, space for sewing projects and supplies, etc.). But never mind homesteading, some of these places don't even have space for a kitchen of whatever kind. Is it really a home if you can't cook in it? It must not be an all-the-time home. And to each his own, but I also fail to see the value of making a home for yourself that is so small that you have to have a separate outhouse, or in one case even, an outhouse, a bath house, and an entirely separate structure that is the bedroom, i.e., a shack just large enough for you to crawl onto your mattress.
Also, why are things like backyard sheds and a little covered bridge featured in a book about tiny homes? As much as I'm interested in simplicity, living ecologically, and living well within my financial means, comparing people's homes with tool sheds, potting sheds, and a covered bridge area is not making me more enthusiastic about the prospects of tiny home living.
I guess if you're reading through this book as an art/architecture book it may be fine. Or if you're just mildly curious about what this alternative lifestyle might look like on the surface, cool. I was hoping for something a little more helpful, I guess, and I will have to keep looking.(less)