i am really tired today, so instead of a normal post full of rambling nonsense, i am posting the first in a i-don’t-know-how-many-parts series of reviews focusing on personal challenge memoirs. this would be the kind of book in which the author basically tries to conduct an experiment for, say, a year, starring themselves as the guinea pig. i have read a lot of these books, even though they are almost all terrible. the big trend last year was the eco-memoir, in which an author tries to make lifestyle changes in order to live a more ecologically sustainable life. these are arguably the worst of the worst because they tend marry unbearable smugness with mind-numbing ignorance.
if you know of a personal challenge memoir that you would like me to eviscerate, please leave a comment with the title. enjoy!
sleeping naked is green: no, it’s not, shut up
many things about this book were infuriating. let’s start with the title. how the hell is sleeping naked “green”? in her entry on the subject, the author claims that eschewing pajamas means that she has fewer laundry items that need attention, thus saving water, i guess, when she does laundry. i find this really unconvincing. i mean, sleep naked if you want, & wear pajamas if you prefer, but the ludicrous/borderline salacious title was really just the tip of the iceberg for this extremely questionable book.
the premise is that the author, vanessa, will make one green environmentally-friendly change every day for a year. & she will start a blog in order to document these changes. it’s not quite clear whether or not the challenge & blog were actually conceived to eventually be a book, or whether this was just an idea vanessa had one day, hatched from the goodness of her heart after seeing “an inconvenient truth” (summary: iceberg melt, polar bear sad). judging by the fact that she already has a literary agent during the challenge, despite not having written any other books, & the fact that she pitched the idea as a column to the newspaper she works for, you have to assume that there is some kind of mercenary eco-stunt element to the project, even if vanessa’s concern about the environment is somewhat legit.
this book shares a common conceit with the equally execrable (that means “shitty”) farewell my subuaru–both authors endeavor to prove that an “average” (read: white, educated, & class-privileged) citizen of a developed western nation (the united states in farewell my subaru & canada in this book) can make changes in their everyday lives that will benefit the environment & lead to greater sustainability without really having to seriously change their lifestyles too much. i mean, vanessa charts her eco-progress through daily blogging. she’s not exactly interested in living out in the canadian prairie land in a grass hut with no electricity or wireless internet access. although she does cancel her cable TV service as part of green challenge. *slow clap*
canceling her cable service is pretty typical of the green challenges vanessa sets for herself. her very first daily challenge is to start using only recycled paper towels, & while she eventually weans herself off paper towels altogether, i fail to see this as some kind of laudable accomplishment. i guess a trip to the grocery store will show me that paper towels are still a very popular consumer product, but i have managed to live 31 & a half years without ever using one. going without is hardly a sacrifice. i feel similarly about vanessa’s numerous challenges that concern greening her beauty regimen. she starts using a natural organic bronzer (& i ask, why use bronzer at all?). she starts using all-natural lipstick (why use lipstick at all?). eventually she gives up make-up altogether, along with her straightening iron, hot showers (opting for lukewarm instead), & shaving her legs, & i guess maybe baby steps were necessary to get off mainstream beauty products altogether, but when the weaning is accompanied by much gnashing of teeth over how her pale un-lipsticked frizzy-haired visage is sure to be ignored by available menfolk & she won’t land a boyfriend until the green challenge is over & she’s able to be pretty again, & what’s the point of using organic cotton sheets & sleeping naked when she’s alone alone alooooone…well, it gets a little ridiculous.
much has also been made of the incredible amount of traveling vanessa did during her challenge–from toronto to england to the west bank to spain to toronto to portland, oregon, to toronto, plus a trip to new york, plus some time up at her parents’ country cabin, plus booking another flight to spain shortly before the challenge ends. she makes sure to let us know that she “carbon-offset” all this flying using terrapass. oh! you “carbon-offset” it, which is basically the eco equivalent of plague-ridden europeans making a pilgrimage to the papal homestead in order to purchase the leftover goodwill of the saints to ensure their spots in the kingdom of heaven. it’s just fucking ludicrous. don’t think i don’t feel bad for rolling my eyes this hard at someone who is at least trying–plenty of people make no effort whatsoever to consider the environmental impact of their choices, & plenty of people who have considered their environmental impact have gone to great lengths to justify not making greener choices, or to condemn other people’s green choices as fraught with great hypocrisy. it’s not really a game i care to play, but it’s almost impossible to take vanessa’s book seriously. i’m sure she challenged herself a great deal & spent a lot of time re-drawing the boundaries of her comfort zone, & by all indications, her blog project inspired a fair few people to think about their carbon footprints in new ways, & that’s all well & good. but at the end of the day, it strikes me as very insular & self-congratulatory, & the passages about falling in love with her boyfriend had the same ick factor that brought down a homemade life for me–there’s just something very hubristic about including your first blush at new love in your memoir about something that really has fuck-all to do with your new love.
in sum: almost shockingly banal.