Is it just me, or is there a huge publishing trend lately relating to a particular type of memoir? I know memoirs are hot anyway, and I’m reading lots more of them than I used to, but I’m thinking of something different from the traditional “I’ve lived an interesting life and now I’m writing about it” kind of memoir. I’m thinking of books by people who go out and do something unusual — for a year, in many cases — with the specific intent of writing about it. They may have their own personal reasons for pursuing the quest, but the intent of setting up this somewhat artificial life experiment and then writing about it is there from the get-go.
I’m not knocking the trend, you understand. It’s produced some brilliant books, along with lots of OK books (and probably some terrible ones, but I haven’t stumbled across those). I’ve read books about doing everything the Bible says for a year, about a Jew going to Christian churches for a year, about a guy living alone on an island for a year, about living without technology, about recovering from heartbreak by travelling to three exotic destinations, about a round-the-world dating tour, about an indepth exploration of internet dating … and many, many more.
Latest entry: Canadian journalist Vanessa Farquharson decides she’s going to “go green” and make one positive environmentally-friendly change each day for a year. And blog about it. And of course, she gets a book deal from the blog, and the result is Sleeping Naked is Green.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, despite my questions about the somewhat artificial nature of these increasinly popular life experiments. Farquharson has an enjoyable tone that’s funny and easy to relate to. The dilemmas she struggles with are the same ones most of us ordinary do-gooders face as we try to make our lives more environmentally friendly: 1) Which of these myriad choices is really “better” for the environment, and 2) can I live with it?
Vanessa quickly learns that though her original goal was to make small changes, they quickly add up to a big lifestyle renovation. She makes sacrifices I wouldn’t be willing to make, like unplugging her fridge and selling her car (though she does live in Toronto, where I think I could probably survive without a car too). On the other hand, lots of the small consumptions she cuts out of her life are things I don’t do/use anyway, so maybe I’m not so far behind after all.
It was interesting to compare this to the last book I reviewed, Robert Kull’s Solitude. Kull’s and Farquharson’s years were about as far apart as they could be, both geographically and in lifestyle — a guy living alone in a cabin on an island, and a girl living an urban apartment life in a big Canadian city. Both, in a way, were trying to be more in tune with the natural world, and it was interesting to contemplate which was really the more “environmentally friendly” lifestyle. In many ways it’s easier to live a “green” life as an urban apartment-dweller, which means ironically that you can be much kinder to nature by isolating yourself from it and living in a space where you rarely meet trees and grass.
I have only one quibble with Sleeping Naked is Green (which I already posted at Vanessa’s website, the blog where it all began, Green as a Thistle), and that’s that I had to buy the actual paper book, made of TREES!! to read it. If any book should be available as an e-book, surely a book about being kinder to the environment ought to be?