personal challenge memoir review #1: sleeping naked is green

i am really tired today, so instead of a normal post full of rambling nonsense, i am posting the first in a i-don’t-know-how-many-parts series of reviews focusing on personal challenge memoirs. this would be the kind of book in which the author basically tries to conduct an experiment for, say, a year, starring themselves as the guinea pig. i have read a lot of these books, even though they are almost all terrible. the big trend last year was the eco-memoir, in which an author tries to make lifestyle changes in order to live a more ecologically sustainable life. these are arguably the worst of the worst because they tend marry unbearable smugness with mind-numbing ignorance.

if you know of a personal challenge memoir that you would like me to eviscerate, please leave a comment with the title. enjoy!

sleeping naked is green: no, it’s not, shut up
many things about this book were infuriating. let’s start with the title. how the hell is sleeping naked “green”? in her entry on the subject, the author claims that eschewing pajamas means that she has fewer laundry items that need attention, thus saving water, i guess, when she does laundry. i find this really unconvincing. i mean, sleep naked if you want, & wear pajamas if you prefer, but the ludicrous/borderline salacious title was really just the tip of the iceberg for this extremely questionable book.

the premise is that the author, vanessa, will make one green environmentally-friendly change every day for a year. & she will start a blog in order to document these changes. it’s not quite clear whether or not the challenge & blog were actually conceived to eventually be a book, or whether this was just an idea vanessa had one day, hatched from the goodness of her heart after seeing “an inconvenient truth” (summary: iceberg melt, polar bear sad). judging by the fact that she already has a literary agent during the challenge, despite not having written any other books, & the fact that she pitched the idea as a column to the newspaper she works for, you have to assume that there is some kind of mercenary eco-stunt element to the project, even if vanessa’s concern about the environment is somewhat legit.

this book shares a common conceit with the equally execrable (that means “shitty”) farewell my subuaru–both authors endeavor to prove that an “average” (read: white, educated, & class-privileged) citizen of a developed western nation (the united states in farewell my subaru & canada in this book) can make changes in their everyday lives that will benefit the environment & lead to greater sustainability without really having to seriously change their lifestyles too much. i mean, vanessa charts her eco-progress through daily blogging. she’s not exactly interested in living out in the canadian prairie land in a grass hut with no electricity or wireless internet access. although she does cancel her cable TV service as part of green challenge. *slow clap*

canceling her cable service is pretty typical of the green challenges vanessa sets for herself. her very first daily challenge is to start using only recycled paper towels, & while she eventually weans herself off paper towels altogether, i fail to see this as some kind of laudable accomplishment. i guess a trip to the grocery store will show me that paper towels are still a very popular consumer product, but i have managed to live 31 & a half years without ever using one. going without is hardly a sacrifice. i feel similarly about vanessa’s numerous challenges that concern greening her beauty regimen. she starts using a natural organic bronzer (& i ask, why use bronzer at all?). she starts using all-natural lipstick (why use lipstick at all?). eventually she gives up make-up altogether, along with her straightening iron, hot showers (opting for lukewarm instead), & shaving her legs, & i guess maybe baby steps were necessary to get off mainstream beauty products altogether, but when the weaning is accompanied by much gnashing of teeth over how her pale un-lipsticked frizzy-haired visage is sure to be ignored by available menfolk & she won’t land a boyfriend until the green challenge is over & she’s able to be pretty again, & what’s the point of using organic cotton sheets & sleeping naked when she’s alone alone alooooone…well, it gets a little ridiculous.

much has also been made of the incredible amount of traveling vanessa did during her challenge–from toronto to england to the west bank to spain to toronto to portland, oregon, to toronto, plus a trip to new york, plus some time up at her parents’ country cabin, plus booking another flight to spain shortly before the challenge ends. she makes sure to let us know that she “carbon-offset” all this flying using terrapass. oh! you “carbon-offset” it, which is basically the eco equivalent of plague-ridden europeans making a pilgrimage to the papal homestead in order to purchase the leftover goodwill of the saints to ensure their spots in the kingdom of heaven. it’s just fucking ludicrous. don’t think i don’t feel bad for rolling my eyes this hard at someone who is at least trying–plenty of people make no effort whatsoever to consider the environmental impact of their choices, & plenty of people who have considered their environmental impact have gone to great lengths to justify not making greener choices, or to condemn other people’s green choices as fraught with great hypocrisy. it’s not really a game i care to play, but it’s almost impossible to take vanessa’s book seriously. i’m sure she challenged herself a great deal & spent a lot of time re-drawing the boundaries of her comfort zone, & by all indications, her blog project inspired a fair few people to think about their carbon footprints in new ways, & that’s all well & good. but at the end of the day, it strikes me as very insular & self-congratulatory, & the passages about falling in love with her boyfriend had the same ick factor that brought down a homemade life for me–there’s just something very hubristic about including your first blush at new love in your memoir about something that really has fuck-all to do with your new love.

in sum: almost shockingly banal.

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4 responses to “personal challenge memoir review #1: sleeping naked is green

  1. it really WAS terrible. i read it, and COMPLETELY concur. i feel like i am the green queen already, by the standards of most of these books. sheesh. great review!

    • i know, right? have you read barbara kingsolver’s animal vegetable miracle? i mostly liked it, but there’s all this stuff about how barbara’s husband gets up extra-early every morning & exerts himself making fresh loaves of bread for the family–every single day. this is how he contributes to their food sustainability project, by contributing tons of fresh bread. at first, i was like, “wow, that’s so cool. making bread is a really time-consuming project. i can’t believe he does it every day!” then i kept reading & got to the part about how he gets up every day…& makes the bread in a bread maker. seriously, a monkey could make bread in a bread maker. it’s almost impossible to mess up, & it takes less than three minutes to throw the ingredients into the machine. a bread machine can make delicious bread, but he’s not exactly over-exerting himself. meanwhile, barbara & her daughter are canning preserves & making mozzarella cheese from scratch, etc etc. & this dude is all like, “i rule! i have a bread maker!”

  2. BWHAHAHAHAHAAA! that is HILARIOUS. i haven’t read that one. another TRULY bad one is, low-impact man. i had to stop reading it, which i almost NEVER do. i couldn’t take it when i found out they had made a MOVIE out of it. oh god, gag me. the author quit using toilet paper. i mean, i will do a LOT of things to be green, but so long as i live in the city, i will be using TP. not to mention his wife…who is a whole other problem with that book. i guess i really don’t see the point of being extreme for a year. i guess the dollarbillz may be THAT answer.

    • yeah, i’ve read that one too. it will be part of this blog series, for sure. i hated it. i even watched the documentary & hated that too. it started off bad, with some dude who wants to “make no environmental impact” for an entire year waking up & now knowing how to best blow his nose without tissue paper. um…a handkerchief? ever heard of one? & then he is flummoxed by what he could possibly use as an environmentally sound alternative to disposable diapers. how the fuck did he think kids were diapered before disposables were invented? did he think they were just let outside to do their business, like dogs? what an idiot. i mean, arguably, he was playing dumb so as to not alienate readers who may truly not be aware of cloth diapers & handkerchiefs…but instead of seeming relate-able, he seemed idiotic. & the documentary wasn’t really any better (somewhat less boring & preachy though). if he doesn’t want to use toilet paper, i don’t have a big issue with that. whatever. but i found it obnoxious that he brought it up & then wouldn’t explain what he used instead, & got really angry that all the reviews of his book harped on that aspect. you’re the one that brought it up, dude! just own it!

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