notes from the racetrack

My life is a mad dash these days as I hurtle from obligation to obligation, putting off everything I enjoy until later. Later. Later. It sucks. One of those things I enjoy is writing, whether it be blogging, journalling or novel-tinkering, and my writing time is almost zero these days. Same with reading. My reading time has shrunk to the last few minutes before bed when I am not exactly at my sharpest. This is all my way of justifying the lameness of the “reviews” to follow – I don’t have enough time now to write with any intelligence (seriously, I’m on a tiny stopover between library shifts and I have no idea what I’m going to make for supper) and even if I did have the time to write something of value, I was so zonked out when I read the following two books it’s a wonder I remember reading them at all.

First up:

Jane Austen by Carol Shields.  It was good. The end.

Okay, I’ll try a little harder.

I’ve never been a reader of biographies or autobiographies because I expect them to be dull. There. I said it. I expect them to be big, boring chronicles of every single teensy weensy detail about some supposedly fascinating person’s life and, frankly, there are very few people who interest me enough to want to know their last names, let alone what they named their first pet.

But I saw this at the library and thought, hey, Jane Austen. I like Jane Austen. And Carol Shields. I like Carol Shields. And, hey, even better, it’s 185 pages. I like 185 page books.

And it’s good. Very enjoyable. Not dull at all. Jane Austen led a very interesting life, despite what some asshole critics might say, and Carol Shields recounts Jane’s story in her own typically well-spoken (well-written?) and insightful way. Think the opposite of this review: that’s what it’s like. Highly recommended.

Next up:

No Impact Man by Colin Beavan.

I don’t have the book in front of me to quote a blurb so I’ll try to summarize: Colin Beavan, a writer in New York City, kind of freaks out (understandably) at the state of the environment and decides to try spending a year making no impact on the earth – no garbage, no electricity use, no unnecessary shopping, no transportation other than self-powered. It’s a huge, complicated undertaking, as you can imagine, and he drags his somewhat reluctant wife and young daughter along for the experiment.

My favourite parts of the book were the logistics – how they got around the city, how they kept food from spoiling without a refrigerator, how they washed their clothes in the tub, and so on – but interestingly, it seems to be the sharing of the logistics that Beavan didn’t enjoy. He is very light on the details regarding many of the things they tried and says this is because he isn’t recommending anyone actually try to live this way – it was just a means for gaining awareness of our society’s tendency toward over-consumption and reliance upon convenience at the expense of everything else. He repeatedly gets all bent out of shape when radio, tv and magazine interviewers ask what his family uses as a substitute for toilet paper, claiming they’re belittling the project by focusing on such a silly issue, but I think it’s a perfectly sensible question. People are curious. You can’t demand people be curious in the ways you dictate. And I think people are curious about the t.p. issue because they honestly don’t know – what is an environmentally neutral alternative to toilet paper?

So while it was an interesting premise and the book had a lot of interesting passages, I didn’t find Beavan particularly engaging personally, mainly because he focused so heavily on statistics instead of personal experience.

And what are you reading?

2 thoughts on “notes from the racetrack”

  1. I haven’t read “No Impact Man” but we did see the DVD. Very interesting. I can’t remember if they expanded any further on the toilet paper issue. One thing we found rather conflicting was when they discovered their refrigeration system didn’t work too well in keeping milk from going sour. They went to their neighbour for a supply of ice cubes to keep their milk cool and this, apparently, was going to be a daily request. I don’t think the neighbour was too happy about that.
    Have you read Jill Bolte Taylor’s book “My Stroke of Insight”? I think you have heard of her. It’s an amazing story.

  2. Yes, Carolyn, I know what you mean about the refrigeration thing. Piggybacking on someone else’s electricity use didn’t seem logical to me, either. It was one of several issues I had at the time I read it, but I’ve forgotten the others now. I really need to start taking notes. And you aren’t the first person to recommend Stroke of Insight. I’ll add it to the list.

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