It seems to me that there are two kind of non-fiction books.
Those that are tightly focused on their subject.
And those that are wide-flung, giving a little bit of information about a lot of things that all come together as a cohesive whole.
If that second type of book is done just right, you have a book that wets your appetite. It inspires research, and learning more, and figuring things out on your own.
Living on the Earth, by Alicia Bay Laurel, is that second kind of book. In spades. Reading it makes me happy. It starts with a description of clouds, and ends with a drawing of the constellations in the Northern Hemisphere. And in between is a wealth of handwritten, gorgeously illustrated muse-inspiring ideas.
Here are a few things that tickled me:
- how to distill rose water
- how to give birth at home
- vegan dairy options
- how to make a bamboo flute
- whittling and wood carving
- how to make a Mexican peasant blouse
- truly lovely soap
See? That’s just a tiny bit of what’s inside this book. None of it is comprehensive knowledge, but all of it makes you want to know more. The original book was written in 1970s, but a revision was done in 2000 so there are viable resources included to facilitate what I promise will be an insatiable desire to Google.
This book was written in a time that, looking back, seems incredibly innocent. People, Babyboomers, broke out and did things differently–vastly differently–than their parents had. Self-sufficiency, doing things for yourself, seems like such a detour from the 1950s image of self-cleaning kitchens and TV dinners doesn’t it?
Things are different today. In 1970 there was a push for the kind of back-t0-the-land self-sufficiency this book so beautifully describes. But the resources were still there. Gas was still as cheap as tap water, and hardly anyone had even considered that we might run out of oil some time. No one, outside of perhaps some geologists or weather experts, was thinking about Climate Change in 1970.
Maybe that’s why it was easy for the Babyboomers to become Yuppies?
Their movement was glorious. But it wasn’t necessary.
Self-sufficiency is necessary today. It is becoming more and more necessary with each passing year. There is a lot of talk about a need to regain skills that people had during the Great Depression. Of course their is, our economy is that scary. But there is something to be said for examining the brief and shining time in our history when people chose self-sufficiency. When figuring out how to do things on your own was a choice, not a necessity.
How much easier is change when it’s a choice, not a mandate?
Take it from someone whose life’s work has been with a population that is infamously resistant to change (teenagers, drug addicts…), self-inspired paradigm shifts are a beautiful thing.
And this book–with it’s lovely, loopy handwriting and Adam-and-Eve illustrations, is an inspiration to a paradigm shift.
That really is a beautiful thing.
P.S. This book is still in print. You can get it at Amazon, but check out the author’s website. If you buy it directly from her, she’ll inscribe it for you. Beautifully. She also has some signed copies of the follow-up book that if I had $50 extra dollars I would be all over buying one of. (I’m going to save my pennies.) She sent me this book to review for you, which did not color my opinion, but which I’m so grateful for.
This book is going into my tiny pile of “books I would want with me if I were trapped on a deserted island (or if the shit hits the fan.)”