One of my goals for 2018 is to become more eco-friendly. I want to eat more locally and organically, use less plastic, and stop purchasing things I don’t really need. Because of these aspirations, I turned to Zero Waste Home by Bea Johnson for inspiration.
In all honestly, I wanted to like this book. I had previously watched one of Johnson’s talks and felt inspired by her life. She, her husband, and two sons produce just one Mason jar of trash a year. They’ve committed to the shared economy and second-hand markets, buy in bulk, refuse one-use things, and live a more simple life. Johnson’s talk is helpful, her book was not.
The main disappointment for me was that the book didn’t go beyond her experience. It seemed redundant after having read through her blog and listen to her eco-talks. There wasn’t a lot of new information, and at times I felt she was writing just to meet a page quota. For instance, at the end of every chapter, Johnson includes an ABC wrap-up of steps readers can take to move towards zero waste. These lists reiterate the same information for multiple letters. Here’s an example : “Elect officials concerned about waste issues; Praise good practices and products; Sign petitions that support Zero Waste initiatives.” These steps are essentially the same: become involved in the movement and use your voice to influence others.
Now that we’ve gotten through my main problem with the book, I’d like to take a few minutes to discuss other things I liked and did not like.
- The author is clearly passionate about zero waste and has no trouble relaying that passion to her audience.
- Johnson demonstrates that small changes do add up over time. One-use disposables (i.e. plastic bags and cutlery) clog up our landfill and are completely unnecessary; with a bit of preparation, anyone can cut these out of their life.
- She spent a lot of time writing about composting, which was helpful. I never knew that food can’t properly break down in a landfill.
- Johnson never went beyond the individual. It seems that if we could all get on board, we could stop using plastic. But aren’t corporations also responsible for part of the waste. If corporations don’t change their practices, then how much will using reusable bags really help?
- The author’s suggestions may not be attainable for all. She’s clearly well-off and lives in a “European-style” community in California. She has access to bulk bins and can walk or bike most places. But what about people who live in food deserts, or in rural areas where public transportation does not exist? How can those who do not have access to zero waste options participate in the movement?
- She suggests giving out raisins for Halloween. Seriously, I know she’s French, but that’s unforgivable. All laughing aside, I also had a problem with her section on birth control. She claims that using the pill and condoms is wasteful because of the packaging. She also writes that surgeries like vasectomies and hysterectomies are wasteful because of the one-time use items associated with hospitals (i.e. gloves, packaging for instruments, etc.) I’m not going to start a lecture on whether or not people should use birth control, but isn’t it irresponsible to create another human who will create tons of trash in his/her lifetime, just to avoid throwing away your birth control packaging?
If you’re interested in zero waste, check out some of the blogs or YouTube videos of zero wasters. This movement seems to be such an individual experience, I’m not sure a book could ever be written to cover all the aspects of it.
Zero Waste Home: The Ultimate Guide to Simplifying Your Life by Reducing Your Waste. Bea Johnson. Scribner, 2013.
For those of you who do not know, I adore David Sedaris. I love his quippy world view, and his stories of France reflect my own experiences living in that country. I was excited to start Jenny Lawson’s book, because many people have compared her writing style to that of Sedaris.
For the most part, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened was funny. Lawson is quite sarcastic, and some of her anecdotes are outright hilarious. However, her writing lacks a certain refinement, which was disappointing to me. Her humor is a bit obvious, and sometimes it seemed she was trying too hard to be funny. Her book lacked the effortlessness that Sedaris has. I understand that sometimes it takes authors a few tries to find their voice and style, so I’ll certainly give Furiously Happy a shot as well.
While I wasn’t completely blown away by this book, I would recommend it to anyone who wants a fun read. If you can get past a lot of the unfunny banter with her husband and the writing in all caps, you could easily read this book in a few days.
Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir. Jenny Lawson. Putnam, 2012.
In light of the recent national debate (and violence) over removing Confederate statues, it was a rather timely decision to read Desmond Tutu’s work on reconciliation and collective healing. Tutu is one whose work I’ve admired for quite some time, and I was happy to finally delve into one of his books.
For those of you who may be unfamiliar with Desmond Tutu and his work, he was the Archbishop of Capetown, South Africa, and is a Nobel Peace Prize recipient (1984.) He’s a theologian, a human rights activist, a professor, and was a major opponent of the South African apartheid (think of a religious Nelson Mandela.)
The premise of this book is that societies must actively seek reconciliation after human rights violations have occurred on behalf of their government. Tutu’s work outlines the endeavors of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee (TRC) of which he was a member. The TRC provided a platform for the victims of apartheid to share their experience while offering amnesty to the perpetrators in exchange for their confessions and apologies. Rather than punishing those responsible for the apartheid, Tutu argues that having them publicly confess and then pardoning them laid a solid foundation on which South African society could be built.
Overall, Tutu’s book is truly moving. He offers many well-chosen examples to illustrate life for Blacks under the apartheid state, while also recounting the proceedings of the TRC. His work offers both an overview of the South African apartheid and the theological justification for forgiveness in times of atrocity.
No Future without Forgiveness. Desmond Tutu. Image, 2000 (first published in 1999).
I almost never recommend historical books, especially if they’re non-fiction. Mostly because historical non-fiction written is almost always written for historians. While I read a lot of excellent books published by academic presses, I would never tell my friends to read them because, quite frankly, academic reading is much more rigorous than leisure reading.
Erik Larson’s work is the best of both worlds. Seriously. Larson was trained as a historian and a journalist, which means he knows how to dig for evidence and analyze what he finds, and write a narrative. Devil is actually two stories- the first is of the building of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, the second of H.H. Holmes, America’s first known serial killer. Larson weaves accounts of Holmes’ murders against the backdrop of the designing of the World’s Fair.
The chapters on Holmes are, at times, gruesome, but I found them to be well-balanced with the story of the World’s Fair. This book does have a lot of detail in it, but I could not put it down. If you liked Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, I think you might like this one, although if you’re not a fan of Capote, you might still enjoy the history of the Chicago World’s Fair.
As a side note, have you read The Road by Cormac McCarthy? I’ve been trying to read it for over a week, but I keep losing interest. I think the dragging on may be part of his style and important to the book, but I’m not sure I can finish it. What do you think, should I hang in there, or move on to the next book?
Erik Larson. The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America. Vintage Books, 2004.
I rarely crave poetry or writing that makes me cry because of its content and prose. Normally, a short book like You Will Not Have My Hate would never pique my interest. I suppose it’s fortunate for me that I expected this book to be completely different from what it was because it was one of the most beautiful books I’ve read in a very long time.
Antoine Leiris lost his wife during the November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris. His book is a reflection of his grief, his coping, and his attempt to continue to live after his wife’s death. At times his book is absolutely heart-wrenching as he recounts his shock, his feelings of powerlessness. He confesses his feelings of helplessness in raising his 17-month old son who will never remember his mother; his own heartbreak is present on every page. Yet, despite the author’s grief, there is an overarching sense of hope, love, and determination.
Give yourself an afternoon to read Leiris’ book- you won’t be able to put it down and you’ll have the rare occasion to experience raw human emotion on the page.
Antoine Leiris. You Will Not Have My Hate. Translated by Sam Taylor. Penguin Press, 2016.
It’s February and in honor of Black History Month I decided to read a book by a Black author. While I specialized in Afro-Caribbean thought in my university studies (wow, that’s one of the more pretentious things I’ve typed in a while,) I’ve read very little African American literature. Enter Maya Angelou.
I borrowed this book from my mom, and I could not put it down. From my understanding, Angelou wrote numerous autobiographies and this one chronicled her childhood in Arkansas, St. Louis, and San Fransisco. Angelou’s accounts are at times hilarious and heart-warming; other stories are heart-breaking and intense.
I found Angelou’s writing style to be simple, yet beautiful. I moved quickly through her book and was emotionally moved on several occasions. Her book recounts the difficulty of growing up in a segregated town in the deep south, the instability of her own family, and the relationships that had a lasting impact on her life. If you haven’t read this one already, you should.
Maya Angelou. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Ballentine Books, 2009 (first published in 1969).
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking had been on my reading list for a few years. After watching Susan Cain’s TED Talk in college, I became committed to learning more about introversion, since I classify myself as an extreme introvert. Cain’s book was a wonderful complement to her Talk, as it delved deeper into the psychological characteristics of introverts.
At first glance, this may not seem like the most enthralling book, especially for you crazy extroverts. However, Cain discusses the importance of introverts in today’s world and looks at how extroverts can better understand and interact with the introverts in their lives. She uses stories to highlight the ways in which introverts experience the world and examines the way American society values extroversion over introversion.
Quiet was a quick read for me and I found myself identifying with so many of the people Cain introduced. From the introverted child who became overwhelmed at school, to the introverted woman who sacrificed her emotional needs to better suit her extroverted partner, Cain’s examples were well chosen. I would recommend this book to anyone, but especially to introverts who sometimes wonder how to fit into extroverted society. If you’re an extrovert, give Quiet a chance: you undoubtedly share your life with an introvert, and Cain’s work will help you appreciate them more.
Susan Cain. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. Crown Publishing Group/ Random House, Inc. 2012.