Saturday, September 29, 2007
Bushwick, Brooklyn, Sept. 2007
An article in this week’s Newsweek addresses the latest trend in memoir-writing: the “year of” memoir, in which, for a year, the writer does something unusual. Recent books seem to involve actually not doing something. Or, more accurately, taking something away from modern life to see what it’s like to do without it.
A.J. Jacobs, in “The Year of Living Biblically,” avoids a lot of modern conveniences to live according to the restrictions imposed by the Bible. Barbara Kingsolver skirts the convenience of year-round supermarket produce to shop locally for seasonal food in “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.” Judith Levine wrote “Not Buying It,” in which she doesn’t shop at all. Sara Bongiorni restricted her shopping to avoid Chinese goods in “A Year Without ‘Made in China.’”
I think the trend toward subtracting things from life is interesting. Americans have shown warring impulses on this topic: We seem to want simpler lives, and hence magazines such as “Real Simple” flourish, but we still buy more and more. We know what we’re doing is pointless, but we still do it.
I’ve long been a fan of simplification - not just in shopping, but in everything. I really think that’s where the key to happiness lies, in removing distractions that make us frantic and speedy. I’m not always successful at it in my own life, but I continue to work on it every day - not buying stuff, turning off the noise-making media, spending time doing things more slowly and purposefully.
This profusion of books reflects the same impulse in all of us. As Ron Hogan, a blogger who covers the publishing industry, tells Newsweek: “We’re such a hyperaffluent society, what else is left for us to do than take things away from our lives?”
And thereby find more.