Less is More


For the second year in a row, everydaytrash.com is participating in the Green Books Campaign, an effort to promote sustainable reading organized by Eco-Libris. And we’re not alone, 200 green blogs are publishing reviews of green books at 1pm today (or, as in this case, thereabouts). Find out more here.

From the long list of environmentally-themed books donated by publishers for the purposes of this e-happening, I chose to review Less is More, edited by Cecile Andrews and Wanda Urbanska and put out by New Society Publishers. The book carries the subtitle “Embracing simplicity for a healthy planet, a caring economy and lasting happiness” and treats the complexity of simplicity in three sections by way of essays written by a number of journalists, academics and bloggers.

I should preface this review by saying that while this book was not for me, some other green bloggers seem to have loved it. After reading this post I encourage you to check out this glowing review on Sustainablog.

Part one of Less is More includes essays defining simplicity, part two offers solutions and part three addresses policies. An afterward follows, suggesting that readers use this book to get conversation flowing in “Simplicity Talking Circles.”

“Simplicity,” the editors state in their introduction, “is a response to the crisis of our planet.” Fair enough. They then explain that the concept of simplicity can, in fact, be complicated. Still with you there. Next, they go on to present (count them) 10 essays defining simple living. And that’s where they lost me. A bunch of people cited Thoreau. A few veered down a spiritual path.* A chapter would end and then, all over again, a new dry voice would make the same case for simpler living in a style too abstract to connect to a general audience and not foot noted enough for an academic one. With each turn of the page, I found myself wishing that Malcolm Gladwell, Oliver Sacks or Jonah Leher had had a crack at the topic (in all fairness, this is a wish for all nonfiction ever).

I’m not trying to be a hater, really, I’m not. Generally speaking I love philosophy and applaud attempts to connect issues of waste and consumption to broader frameworks. But the only thing I could focus on during part one of Less is More is that the editors (yes, I think we have to go there) should have kept the title closer in hand.

Ok. The snarky part is over. On to the positive: Part two. “Solutions,” came as a welcome breath of tangible after all those unwieldy and somewhat sappy definitions of simplicity. Should you pick up Less is More, I recommend jumping right to the middle of the book. Here is where real people share stories with story arc, scenes and tangible examples that link everyday life to our lofty ideals. In particular, I recommend Alan AtKisson’s essay “The Lagom Solution” describing how, upon moving to Sweden at age 40, he discovered the concept of lagom which in Swedish means  “just enough” (not too much, not too little).

Part three is called policies. As with first section, I think the third would have been stronger written as a single chapter citing the six authors who contribute essays. The content covered in each did not feel distinct enough to warrant another essay with a beginning, middle and conclusion.

Late in Less is More, another contributor cites editor Cecile Andrews’ book The Circle of Simplicity in which she hearkens back in American history to point out that a lot of women’s rights advancements were first discussed among circles gathered in people’s homes. At the close this book, Andrews offers some tips on how to create a circle of one’s own to keep the conversation flowing. Sounds like a cool idea to me and I’m glad to see a book that sets out discussing high brow thought culminate with action points. I just wish the path from one to the other had been less segmented.

*As a side note, I think there is enough content spread across a couple of the chapters that if woven together, would make for a compelling article on simplicity in faith traditions.

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3 Responses to “Less is More”

  1. sagustocox Says:

    It must have been tough reading in part one if the philosophy was talked about in such a dry manner. I’m glad you stuck with it to get to the solutions and other sections of the book.

  2. Crafty Green Poet Says:

    Shame that so much of its so dry, but the practical part does sound useful and interesting!

  3. Leila Darabi Says:

    It was. I’m glad some positive came through.

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