Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Reading Living Large

I got a quick read out of the library the other week, a book called Living Large: From SUVs to Double Ds—Why Going Bigger Isn't Always Going Better by Sarah J. Wexler. I was going to give you a brief synopsis of the text, but then I think the rather large title already gives you the main gist.

I really wanted to like this book. I felt like it vindicated a lot of the choices that Keith and I make, like living in a small (by today's standards) older home, on a smaller lot in an inner-ring suburb. We choose to drive smaller cars. My choice to scoff at breast enhancement surgery mostly revolves around the fact that Mother Nature gave me more to work with than I ever needed or wanted, so I can't really claim the moral high ground on that one. But still, I expected to be nodding my head in agreement with every page of this book.

In the end, I didn't really like it. I think it was a problem with tone and credibility. Wexler presents it as a Really Serious topic, yet only delves superficially into many of issues. She spent too much time and ink trying not to vilify the people who make these large purchases, and did such a good job of empathizing with them that sometimes, by the end of a chapter, I wasn't entirely sure what side she was on. In particular, the chapter on breast enhancement surgery consisted of many separate facts about breast enhancement surgery, tucked in around the main narrative of her experience going to a plastic surgeon's office as a potential candidate for the surgery. Her overall conclusion about the experience seems to be that she could absolutely imagine herself seriously considering breast reduction surgery. How does that fit with the stated overall thesis of the book?

It's the same thing with the chapter about test-driving a Hummer, too. She makes sure to present Hummer owners that seem reasonable and shed a sympathetic light on them. Why? Are you really trying to convince your audience that bigger isn't always better? Because, in all actuality, I feel like I am part of her imagined audience: someone who already believes that bigger isn't better, and to be a responsible citizen in 2011, I need to be finding ways to make my environmental impact on the world as small as possible. I feel like she's trying to tell me that of course we know that bigger isn't always better, but I need to have more compassion for the people who have no concern over their environmental impacts or the world they're leaving for their/my children. And I'm not buying it.

The best takeaway from the book, for me, came from the final chapter. This chapter focused on Freeganism which, according to Wikipedia, "is an anti-consumerist lifestyle whereby people employ alternative living strategies based on limited participation in the conventional economy and minimal consumption of resources." I've heard the term before, but this time it resonated with me because it was on my mind when I returned from running errands to discover that our dog had gotten into the trash. Again. Just like he'd done at my parents' house a few days before, and at our house a few days before that ..... but he's not just being an annoyingly bad dog! He's a Freegan, so I'll cut him some slack.

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