Book: Made By Hand

made by hand

I got this last summer during one of my few lapses into book-buying… after going 2-3 years without any serious book-buying urges, I’ve started collecting again. Mostly used books, as I come across them (my kryponite — I am powerless in the face of cheap used books!), but I had a gift certificate to and this one called to me. I thought it was going to be something other than it was. It was pretty good, but I had a few problems with it.

I don’t read, but this is written by Mark Frauenfelder, who is the founder of BoingBoing, and has a long history of being an editor of influential tech-y magazines such as Wired. He is currently editor at Make Magazine, which I do enjoy (although I don’t buy it). I was kind of surprised to learn that the editor of Make Magazine did not start out as a DIY-type. Instead, he started learning about it late in the game and has only started doing DIY projects since the mid-to-late-2000s. But before he started making his own kombucha and building chicken coops, he and his wife ditched their Los Angeles life and moved, with their small children, to the remote tropical island of Rarotonga in the South Pacific, to start life again free from the constraints and wired-ness of modern life. And there begins my problem with this book (and with many of these current memoir-esque books so popular right now).

He and his wife are both writers and editors and can do their jobs long-distance, which is great. So they can, theoretically, move anywhere they like. However, it just grates that they decided that moving to a tropical island was the best way to unplug. It’s called pulling a geographical. I get it — I do! I’d love to do that — in theory. But it just feels like more of the same: privileged white people who have too much money deciding that this fancy world they’ve helped create is just not for them anymore, so they decide to go native. And, of course, are defeated by the realities of “going native” — disease, hardship, and, ironically, the lack of technology. So they move back to the states after six months, to try and make the best of — sigh, the hardship of it — homesteading on their half-acre of land (plus a modern house) in Los Angeles. Gosh, do you think it’s possible to have a more meaningful life right where you are?

I’m giving this book a hard time, and I did enjoy most of it, although it rubbed me the wrong way in places. The author details his explorations in the world of DIY: beekeeping, chicken-husbandry, tutoring his own kid, making stuff from scratch, fermentation, etc. It’s all very trendy and nice and some of it was informative and inspiring. And, expensive. For every project, he heads right to Home Depot and buys all the stuff he needs. He buys kits. He buys books. He travels to visit experts. He does not NEED to DIY. He chooses to. He could Hire An Expert (HAP). But he wants to learn and have fun doing it himself — which is admirable. I guess what kind of got on my nerves was the fact that he does not balk at multiple trips to Home Depot or the cost of kits, etc. It’s fun for him — it’s not a necessity. He does do quite a bit of foraging and re-use — okay. I’ll give him that. It’s just… well, I think you know what I mean. Although I think it’s great, it’s a little annoying that he clearly has a choice (as opposed to most of the people he interviews — they make do, make it themselves, and salvage objects out of necessity — which I don’t know why this feels more authentic to me, but it does — and who cares about authenticity when it comes to DIY?  — but still my uncomfortableness remains).

Clearly I have conflicting feelings about the whole modern DIY movement anyway. On the one hand — yay! I think it’s great that people are learning to do things themselves. I think it’s awesome that people are keeping bees and chickens, and that there is a market for items which are fixable — not just replaceable. On the other hand, the trendiness of it, the highly-paid white folks who can afford to make plenty of mistakes and (ironically) buy all the equipment they need — this grates.

Some of this comes from my own righteous sense of “I was here first” — I am not the most DIY person out there, but I do many things by myself from scratch and salvage without even thinking about it, because that is how I was raised. My dad is brilliant at fixing everything and I try to learn everything I can from him — wiring, gardening, fixing stuff of all kinds. My mom is very creative and taught me to cook, sew, preserve, fix household items and clothing, and taught me how to love thrifting. So it kind of comes naturally to me (and, I assume, lots of kids brought up in small towns with parents who didn’t have much money) — the privilege of being able to choose was not an option. So instead, I suppose, I have the privilege choosing of doing it myself — because I have the knowledge.

This is all kind of confusing.

I could also have been influenced by the most recent issue of Sunset magazine, which I found to be incredibly pretentious. Sunset has been shifting more and more away from DIY and How-To, to Lifestyle and Home Trends for the past 5-10 years, and the usefulness of the magazine has declined greatly. This month took the cake. There was a big 3-page article on a family (rich, of course, living in a big house in San Francisco) who decided to radically unplug. No modern conveniences for them! Oh, well, except for nice things like toilets and bathtubs and nice countertops. They do not own a coffeemaker — they have stovetop espresso maker instead! (what is the big difference? really.) No web, so they have to read — gasp! Paper newspapers and real books! No digital readouts on appliances! A manual orange juicer! they make bread — wait for it — by hand! From their own home-ground flour! In their bright naturally-lit large-windowed kitchen with modern appliances (as long as they don’t have those ugly LED lights!) and marble countertops. Sigh. You can read all about it here and here.

The next article was a first-person of going vegan for three days. CAN SHE DO IT!? Apparently not. She was foiled by cheese and wine. She made it two and a half days, but wouldn’t you know it? She felt so much healthier and lighter! So virtuous! And hungry! Did I mention hungry? Light-headed almost! People. Eating vegan is not that difficult. I’m not a vegan, but plenty of days I inadvertently eat vegan. It’s not that hard.

I’m not sure why the juxtaposition of these two articles grated so hard — something about the supposed austere superiority of the one (no gauche red LED lights! grind your own flour!) against the supposed difficulty of an “austere” diet like veganism… it’s a luxury to choose any of these things. Period.

I’m not articulating this well. But you can see that perhaps I was primed to be annoyed by the tossing around of dollars in the supposed DIY handbook.

Anyway, back to the book. After all my grumping, I agree with the author of Made By Hand — so much of the time, it’s way more fun, more engaging, more meaningful to make it or do it yourself. I don’t really want to keep bees, but I’m glad lots of other people do. I would love to have chickens, but I’ve decided that we have too many predators (there is a chapter about chicken-keeping in the book that helped cement this decision for me). But I do love making stuff — all kinds of stuff — on my own. I love building things from salvage. I like preserving stuff from the garden. I cook from scratch almost daily. It’s fun, it keeps my brain working, and I feel more attached to my things, to my home.

Was it a good book? It was okay. However, if you’re new to DIY, I suppose it would be inspiring. It was a fun, fast read, although I ended up with my (chicken?) feathers ruffled.


As a side note, I found a nice resource for some reading suggestion lists: UC Berkeley has some good suggestions on their Summer Reading Lists page. Next up for me is my book club book, The Elephant Keeper’s Children by Peter Hoeg, and then I think I have two or three others I should get out of the way, but then I’m sort of tempted by a big huge read like Shogun or maybe I should start Anna K. Hmm… so many choices. I am excited to start reading in earnest again.


R.I.P. Reading Extravaganza!

I’m not sure how many years I’ve participated in Carl’s RIP Challenge… maybe this is year four? Maybe five? Anyway, it’s my favorite time of year, reading my favorite kind of books, so I’m always up for this!

As usual, I follow this challenge loosely — my own personal guidelines are that I read exclusively RIP books (gothic, horror, thriller, etc.) for September and October. I will have to make an exception this month to read my book club book (The Sense of an Ending), but other than that, it’s all RIP, all the time.

I’ve already started. I just finished Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl (loved!). Here’s what else I plan to read in the next two months:

  • Carrion Comfort, by Dan Simmons. Wanted to read this for awhile.
  • Hell Train: have heard good things about this, if I can find it…
  • Ghost Stories by M.R. James
  • The October Country, Ray Bradbury. Love him.
  • Miss Peregrin’s School for Peculiar Children

That’s enough to start; I’m sure I’ll find some more at the library and pick up hints as others read and post. I’m also hoping to watch a bunch of scary movies.

Lots of stuff happening here lately; I might be slow in posting. All good stuff, but distracting. However, there’s always time to read, right?!

all the books you could want in 6 oz.

Yep. I did it.

I got a Kindle! I got the littlest, tiniest, lightest (cheapest) one Amazon offers. The impetus was trying to pack really really light for my trip, but now that I have it, I kinda like it. I just got it today. I love how small and light it is. And the text is really easy to read.

I went back and forth over getting the regular Kindle or the Kindle Touch. Ultimately I went with the regular one because it was lighter and smaller, and because I don’t ever take notes when reading. I’m noticing that when using the non-touch Kindle, I keep trying to touch the screen, but I know I’ll get used to it quickly.

So I’ve been having fun all night loading it up with classics. I realize I still have a big huge Harry Potter entry to write, as well as a Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle and soon a Princess and Curdie… but oh well. Now I can’t wait to start a book on the Kindle. What should it be? I’d like to start the Elizabeth von Armin (Solitary Summer) but I think I’ll save that for the plane. Maybe Anna Karenina.

Kindle readers: recommendations? I only have… well, 16 books downloaded so far.

I have a feeling that for all my hemming and hawing and waiting, I’m going to be an instant convert to the e-readers.

Going skiing this weekend (cross-country). Been snowing all week in the Sierras and is supposed to be sunny and mild all weekend: perfect. And apres-ski is a perfect time to read classics, while having some hot cocoa, right?

Book: Danse Macabre (I finally finished a book!) (and other bookish updates)

Wow. I believe I started this well before Halloween. And I didn’t even really read *all* of it — I skipped the last 30-40 pages because I was just done.

But it was very good and very interesting. I had no idea what this was about before — I knew it was non-fiction and I knew it had to do with horror, but beyond that — no idea. Well, I was right on both counts, but it was much funnier, more intelligent and interesting than I’d imagined. Stephen King’s writing ability in terms of literature may be up for debate, but he is a very good storyteller, and he’s got a great storytelling “voice” even when writing non-fiction. He starts off talking about his history with horror — growing up with 50s-style horror movies and the horror pulp magazines. Then he moves into the various media horror can be portrayed: radio, movies, books. Along the way, he talks about how good horror stories work — where they get you. About the satisfaction that comes from really giving someone a good scare — and receiving that scare, if you’re into that kind of thing.

It was completely fascinating, not at all scary, and very funny. I laughed out loud in several places. I really, really enjoyed this. Which is good, since I’ve lived with it for the past over-a-month, which is waaaaay longer than I usually stay with a book. At one point, I could barely read a page a night. So yeah. It took me awhile to get through this.

So I finally finished it last night (meaning: I gave up when I realized I wasn’t interested in either of the last two books he was going to discuss and figured, enough is enough). The next book up was We Need To Talk About Kevin, which Tammie has been after me to read for awhile. I tried to start it, I really did. But right about then, my brain gave out again. There were just so many… words. You know how that goes sometimes?

So I took it back to the library, but I’ll get it out again when my brain is functioning better. I tried looking for something light-fiction to get me through this rough reading patch, but everything seemed way too difficult. I finally picked up Little Earthquakes by Jennifer Weiner since I know she’s a decent writer and her brand of chick-lit is bearable to me. And then I went to Biographies and got an Aleister Crowley biography, because why not? And then I went to the music section and got Life by Keith Richards and whatever Stephen Tyler’s autobiography is called. I can’t wait to read both of those. I think that’s probably about the right speed: totally trashy rock star gossip. That’s about all I’m capable of reading right now. I hear the Keith Richards book is pretty good. You know, relatively speaking.

Then I came home and made a huge pot of an extremely simple pasta thing (dinner tonight plus lunches this week), tried to get through a rough patch of feeling bad/guilty/sad, ate some Trader Joe’s Peppermint Joe-Joe’s, and scheduled another visit with a favorite family member, who lives in Santa Cruz. Now I have some freelance work to do, and a Patti Smith documentary to watch when I’m done with that.

Oh yeah, and start reading the Keith Richards thing. Let’s hope I can get through it faster than a month plus.