Ever read a book you were immensely looking forward to and ended up disappointed? It happened to me recently. I’ve been interested in self-sufficiency, the good life, living outside of the system, whatever you want to call it, for years now. While I’m not in a position to adopt that kind of lifestyle at present (and maybe never will be) it doesn’t stop me daydreaming and thinking about it. In the last couple of years I’ve been reading accounts by and about people who have done this – or similar things. And some of them have been fascinating – Carol Drinkwater’s series of books about her olive farm in the south of France enthralled me and I’d recommend them to anyone. Some I stumbled across and didn’t expect to enjoy; Rosie Boycott’s Spotted Pigs and Green Tomatoes was one such. Review of it here (originally published as Our Farm). As well as a highly enjoyable account of how she and her husband set up a smallholding near Ilminster in Somerset, it is a passionate call for people to realise the impact of supermarkets on small towns and communities and for us to think more about where our food actually comes from. Rosie Boycott isn’t the first to write about such issues of course, but her book is so well written that it is easy to engage with the arguments she makes and you get completely swept up in Ilminster’s battle that the book becomes something of a pageturner. So that was one book I loved although I wasn’t expecting to.
In much of my reading about self-sufficiency I came across many references to Scott and Helen Nearing, considered by many (and rightly so IMHO) to be the pioneers of the concept of ‘The Good Life’ The Good Life Center. Intrigued by the story of this couple who built their own houses by hand, who gardened, who lived out of the system to a large extent, I ordered their books and looked forward greatly to reading them. Now, my life being what it is, I waited for a time when I could read the books properly, not having to rush through them and read them bit by bit when other commitments permitted. So I finally got round to them over the last couple of weeks.
Imagine then my disappointment when I read them and didn’t enjoy them. Don’t get me wrong, they are quite interesting and full (sometimes too full) of useful detail and information for anyone who wants to live that life. But oh my word the books are so dry and so puritanical. You never get a sense of how they FELT to be living this way, what they thought, whether they had any struggles. The life they describe comes across (to me anyway) as humourless and austere. The word ‘dour’ (especially when said in a Scottish accent) sums it up perfectly. Don’t misunderstand me, I admire what the Nearings did and I can see how and why they have inspired so many to try something similar. But oh did life have to be so devoid of fun????
I read ‘Living the Good Life’, ‘Continuing the Good Life’ and ‘Loving and Leaving the Good Life’. And they’ve all gone to the charity shop…… I hope someone else enjoys them. I really wanted to and I didn’t. Ah well.