thefourthvine's Reviews > Not Buying It: My Year Without Shopping

Not Buying It by Judith Levine
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Three years after reading this, I'm still pissed off about it. It was educational, but not about not shopping or our consumer culture; rather, it perfectly encapsulates a specific overprivileged mindset.

The idea is fascinating. The book is also fascinating, but only in the way a trainwreck is; the author announces she's only buying necessities, then decrees that everything is a necessity - the New York Times! Expensive haircuts! Basically, she spends the year not buying new clothes or dinners out. (And she manages to save $8000, which - wow, I do not spend 8k a year on new clothes and dinners out.)

That's problematic enough - seriously, I know people who never in their lives have bought even half the things she declared as essential; I know people who live on what she spends on dinners out and clothing in a year - but then there's the whining. Levine considers herself wildly underprivileged despite her two homes and three cars and new wardrobe every year, and she dedicates a lot of this book to explaining a) how she might look privileged, but she's not, because - she has to live in New York City (part of the time)! She'll die without real culture! (Which she refuses to pay for, and whines that the government should pay for, demonstrating a fascinating failure to understand where the government gets its money.) She has to have expensive clothes and glasses! They're part of her style and identity!

I just - especially now, thinking about how many of my friends have lost their jobs, and how they're really not buying it this year - I am so frustrated by this book that I could spit. I would like to see a person like Levine genuinely deconstruct her spending habits - force herself to stick to a tight budget, force herself to evaluate each item she spends. But she didn't have the guts to do it, and I'm only glad I didn't buy her book.
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message 1: by Vassilissa (new)

Vassilissa Ick. *crosses off list* What a shame - normally I love this sort of thing, memoirs of people spending a year or so doing something unusual. But wow - I consider myself wildly privileged because, unlike most people on unemployment benefits, I have parents who are willing and able to get my car repaired and pay my (extensive) medical bills for me (yes, my country's socialised medicine program does pay for some of it, but, well, not even a third of my psych bills.)


thefourthvine See, yeah, I love the concept, and in general I love memoirs like this. (I would love some recs from you of ones you've liked, by the way; I bet we're drawing from different pools.) But the execution is so very lacking. That's why I reviewed this here, actually; Queue added it to her to-read list, and I wanted to make sure she knew what she was getting into. (Q, as a poverty lawyer, might actually die of frustration if she read this.)

And I didn't even discuss all the parts that pissed me off; most of the stuff in my review is covered in the first few chapters. There's this whole digression with a cellphone tower in the town near their second home. And the part where she talks about how unfair it is that she has to buy health insurance, and how the government should totally be providing it - which I agree with, except that she assumes that the government will be taxing other people (you know, rich people) to provide benefits for her poor and underprivileged self and spouse, who obviously shouldn't be asked to pay anything, since they are so very very poor. Oh, and there's her tremendous sacrifice of taking the bus to a protest in D.C. (yes, travel is essential, as long as it's for something important, like protest or family or whatever).

When I read this, I kept thinking, Ms. Levine, you really really need to leave NYC for a while. In the rest of this country, never mind the rest of the world, you'd be able to develop this thing we call perspective. It's nice to have! And it might help you stop showing your ass in print.


Stephanie I would like to see a person like Levine genuinely deconstruct her spending habits - force herself to stick to a tight budget, force herself to evaluate each item she spends. But she didn't have the guts to do it, and I'm only glad I didn't buy her book.

AGREED! I was so excited about the concept, but the author just kept coming up with justifications about all the things she NEEDED. I don't remember her acknowledging that they were things she WANTED and that it's not the same thing.

I expected this book to make me feel guilty and look at my own spending. Instead, it kind of made me feel smug that I wasn't as spoiled as the author.


thefourthvine I was so excited about the concept, but the author just kept coming up with justifications about all the things she NEEDED. I don't remember her acknowledging that they were things she WANTED and that it's not the same thing.


Yeah, exactly. While I was reading the book, I kept thinking about trips to, like, the supermarket and places when I was a kid. I would say, "I need this!" and my parents would say, "Do you NEED it? Or do you just WANT it?" No matter what I said at that point, I wouldn't get it (unless I really did need it); claiming I needed something I didn't was the easiest way to be sure I would never have it.

Apparently no one ever did that service for Levine, or she would have a better working definition of "necessary."


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