In February I completed two books and am currently halfway through a third. I was lucky to take two last-minute trips to the beach and honestly thought I would read more, but relaxing with no agenda had its perks too.
The first book I completed was The Unsettlers: In Search of the Good Life in Today's America by Mark Sundeen. I really wanted to like this book but it kind of fell short of my expectations. The author follows the lives of three very different couples as they attempt to leave mainstream culture to pursue their personal visions of the American dream. The first couple, Sarah and Ethan, leave the world as they knew it behind and move to a plot of land in Missouri with the Amish as their closest neighbors. They had high expectations with strict rules for their style of living including living without electricity, running water or cars, growing their own food, having a just cause, and not supporting industry. At their compound they host visitors throughout the year who come learn their way of living.
The second couple, Olivia and Greg, live in Detroit, Michigan where they are part of a grassroots effort that is converting abandoned city blocks to urban farms. Their daily struggles are very different from the other couples in the book in that they encounter violence on a seemingly daily basis. But they are not afraid to protect themselves or their farm. In their case, they are using the skills they have acquired to grow food and make a living in a place that it is next to impossible to get ahead, especially if you happen to be black and don't work for the auto industry.
The third couple, Luci and Steve, are older and have been farming in Montana for several decades. As an original part of the organic, and then local food movement, their goal was never about healthy or gourmet food choices per se, but rather about ethical economic behavior. They currently use solar as a main source of energy which means they have electricity and make money from selling their power back to the grid. This poses some ethical issues for them, but they choose to participate in the system in this way, even though they are predominantly off the grid.
The stories of these families were fascinating and I would have like to learn more about them – an entire book could probably be devoted to each family's effort to pioneer their portion of the country. My issue with the book has to do with the author. He spends a lot of time interjecting his own feelings and experiences on to the other people's stories in an attempt to figure out his own life and whether or not he should follow through and marry his fiance. It was very distracting and didn't really add to the book. Also, it felt like there wasn't actually much of a point to the book, other than to say, "Hey! These families are living off the grid in different ways. They grow their own food and don't have electricity, isn't that cool?"
The best parts of the book for me was that these families seemed to recognize that they could be friends with people who were vastly different from them politically. That is a view I have long held and I think it needs to be examined by more Americans.
Some of Ethan and Sarah's closest friends these days were not fellow activists, but rather their conservative neighbors, Don and Dana Miller. The two couples agreed not to broach certain subjects... "If we looked at our differences, we could not have a relationship. We love them for who they are not for how they live." – Dana MillerI gave this book 3 out of 5 stars on Goodreads.
The people in this book believe –and show– that sacrifice leads to abundance. And that's the same allure of marriage, that by giving up one element of freedom we gain something greater.
The second book I finished was The Wonder Trail by Steve Hely, a writer for The Office and American Dad! As someone who loves to travel and read other people's travel experiences, I found this book to be mediocre. The beginning was humorous and promising but Hely spends a good portion of his book quoting other people's books and very little time describing his travels – mostly recounting his experiences partying with strangers who are much younger than him. If you are looking for a humous travelogue, I would suggest you pick up Honeymoon with My Brother: A Memoir by Franz Wisner or The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific by J. Maarten Troost.
Best quote from The Wonder Trail:
The experience you get isn't always what you were looking for. What you were after sometimes turns out not to be the point. But who cares? What matters is the trip you took to get there.I gave this book 2 out of 5 stars on Goodreads.
I read Flat Stanley: His Original Adventure by Jeff Brown to my five-year-old this month. He is excited to read more of the Flat Stanley series.