Posts Tagged ‘Green Books Campaign’

Less is More

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

For the second year in a row, 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.

Green Books Campaign: The Adventures of a Plastic Bottle

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

This review is part of the Green Books campaign. Today 100 bloggers are reviewing 100 great books printed in an environmentally friendly way, according to Our goal is to encourage publishers to get greener and readers to take the environment into consideration when purchasing books. This campaign is organized by Eco-Libris, a green company working to green up the book industry by promoting the adoption of green practices, balancing out books by planting trees, and supporting green books. A full list of participating blogs and links to their reviews is available on Eco-Libris website.


Logo design by Susan Newman

As part of today’s interactive green blogger book fest, I just finished reading The Adventures of a Plastic Bottle, an illustrated kids book published by Little Green books, written by Alison Inches illustrated by Pete Whitehead. It’s a cute little volume printed on postconsumer waste recycled paper (and even includes a handy definition of postconsumer waste right in the inside cover).



The story follows a googly-eyed personified entity from life as a “thick, oozing blog of crude oil” through incarnations as plastic particles, a plastic bottle, a recycled flower vase, shredded plastic bits and, finally, a synthetic fleece sweatshirt worn into space by an astronaut.

I jumped on selecting this book for the Green Books Campaign because I was psyched to see such a trash-related kids book on the market. I was a bit disappointed to discover the whole thing was written in a “dear diary” format, mostly because I don’t believe in dumbing things down too much for children, but also because it’s a bit confusing in this particular case since the protagonist is a blog of molecules that are reshaped several times over the course of the story.

That said, The Adventures of a Plastic Bottle does an excellent job explaining in clear, compelling and adorably-illustrated text how plastic bottles are made and how they might be reused and recycled beyond a single use storing bottled beverage. There’s even handy glossary in the back to review new terms learned such as “oil refinery” and “extruder”. I do love a good glossary.

But at the end of the day, the overall framing of the story leaves me hesitant to recommend it to parents wanting to give their kids a good green education. While understanding where plastic comes from and how to recycle it is a valuable lesson, a better story would have been one that included ideas about how to avoid using plastic all together…or conserving resources like crude oil for other tasks than temporarily holding single servings of water and soda. It struck me as very add and more than a little sad that a volume coming out of a green publishing imprint that went through all the pains of publishing on uber-pc postconsumer waste paper. Of course, you can’t really have a story narrated by a little bottle and then advocate for that bottle not to exist. Well, I guess you could, but it would be weird and dark…which come to think of it describes all my favorite childhood tales…

In short: this book needs an appendix!

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