I’ve been reading, not just for uni, for pleasure. It dawned on me the other day that, although my reading material might to the casual observer look rather diverse, it’s all really about the same thing.

Do you work to live or live to work?

In quick succession there’s been:

Linda Cockburn’s Living the Good Life, her family’s story of cutting back on all non-essential spending so that they could work less and spend more time together and be more environmentally friendly into the bargin. Which was informative as well as fun. Having read it, I still want chickens, I probably wont invest in a goat.

John de Graaf, David Wann & Thomas H. Naylor’s Affluenza: The All Consuming Epidemic, which had me glaring at our television and all the plastic crap our kid has been given (even more than I was already). In many ways it’s stuff I already know or suspected, but having all the stats there on American (and more generally Western) consumption, coupled with a discussion of ‘how advertising is directly aimed at kids’, is a wee bit confronting. The mechanics of the credit industry bother me too. What with being one of those inner city latte drinking types, I’m inclined to think deregulation of the banking industry hasn’t been entirely successful. On the whole, I enjoyed the book, however: I’m used to reading books and journal articles aimed at an academic audience so it annoyed me a bit that each point was dealt with quickly rather than in detail. That may not bother everyone, lord knows the book has sold well. Which is what you want for an anti-consumerism Bible isn’t it? (Yes I think the writers see the inherent problem with that)

Amanda Blake Soule’s The Creative Family: How to Encourage Imagination and Nurture Family Connections. Because I’m trying to remind myself to remember to enjoy myself and do the things I actually like and I’m good at (or want to be good at) instead of putting them off because we have a toddler and a tiny house and no money and it’s all too hard. That sort of thinking means never having any fun again til I’m retired (or we put the kid in boarding school) and even if I never say it out loud I can hear the whining and it’s really annoying. The book is also imbued with the Soule family philosophy of buying as little as possible, only buying the good stuff that makes your life beautiful, and lots of practical ideas about storage and organising all these creative endeavours so that they actually happen (without driving you bonkers in the process because you’ve got nowhere to eat or you keep standing on things). It’s like a meditation on the practice of creativity in daily life and I don’t think you have to have a hoarde of pre-schoolers in your life to get something out of it.

Anne Manne’s Quarterly Essay contribution “Love and Money: The Family and the Free Market”. Which I haven’t finished yet, but I’m enjoying. Mostly because she starts with the assumption that our economy should serve society and not the other way around. I find some parts of her argument challenging, but I’ll write more about that when I’ve finished, just in case she answers my questions later.

Judith Levine’s Not Buying It: My year without shopping which is fun, reflective and well researched. It’s a personal journal of a year of anti-consumerism from someone who starts out thinking she didn’t buy that much, and quickly realising that in fact, her spending was pretty typical. Having lots of pairs of shoes is no less consumerist just because the shoes in question are hard-wearing and water-tight. I haven’t finished this one either, but so far her major challenge isn’t the “stuff” she has to give up, but the services. Going to the movies (she feels cut off from her friends and the world at large, and has to contend with boredom) and eating out (you can’t organise a business meeting on a park bench, or in your home office). I liked the discussion of gifts, especially the realisation that she’d spent $1001 on ‘the holidays’ and she’s Jewish. Whatever way you slice it, that’s a lot of Christmas for a non-believer, more than I spend on my very large Catholic family. The problem of gifts, the social understanding of appropriate price for each occasion dependent on giver and givee income, and the social contract that gifts are part of (not giving a gift is a distinctly uncomfortable position to be in at a party where everyone else has brought one, for example), ties in with her other strength: unlike a lot of commentary on the environment and consumerism Levine understands social policy. Governments regulate (or don’t regulate) and it has a very very big impact on the way we live. It’s not enough to talk about “community” as if it’s just our street, our town, or our subculture. Our governments at every level make decisions we all have to live with. We drive cars and pollute, not as individuals, but as people who have collectively failed to insist on decent public transport. There are decisions that are stupid environmentally, and that we have the power to change individually, but there are also enormous systemic problems that can’t be solved by dropping out of society.

For maximum smug points: I bought the Quarterly Essay at my local newsagent, as usual, and borrowed all the others from the library. I suggested The Creative Family and the were kind enough to purchase it for me (but I have to give it back). If only Levine’s library using experiences were as good as mine. Every book she looked for had been lost or stolen.

Now I have to go and play with little paper models of my loungeroom. We’re trying (again) to find a way of not having the television as a centrepiece of the room. It’s a tricky little puzzle of inconveniently located power-points, annoying room proportions (it looked big before we moved in) and perhaps too much bloody stuff.