Thursday, September 29, 2011

Review: Twelve by Twelve by William Powers

Our book club likes to read certain categories of books at least once a cycle. So when the non-fiction selection month was available, I jumped on it and chose this book. Not only was the premise fascinating to me, but it takes place in our state so I thought it would be perfect. Unfortunately, I think my choice earned the unanimous rotten tomato award for the year and I'd have to agree. There was so much promise left unfulfilled and that, combined with the fairly sanctimonious tone, was the kiss of death.

Powers, an ecological activist long worried about his own carbon footprint, hears of a doctor living in a 12x12 home completely off the grid. Intrigued by her lifestyle, he is offered the opportunity to move into her home during a time period when she is out west protesting and he jumps at the chance to live the life of a wildcrafter. But this leap is inauthentic at best, while musing on nature and this back to the earth lifestyle, Powers never embraces the life fully, falling back on his girlfriend's car, apartment, and the local wi-fi enabled cafe. He glorifies the tiny carbon footprint of living 12x12 and while his point that we should all do more to reduce our carbon consumption is valid, he also ignores the problems of living as Dr. Jackie has done. A major reason she's chosen her lifestyle is her disagreement with tax money being used for war. A legitimate ideological stance but neither she nor he addresses anything worthy that tax money is used for though, such as education. Opting out of taxes through living small means not supporting your local library or local schools, etc. And many of Power's neighbors during his sojourn in Jackie's home aren't truly living in 12x12 homes. Multiple 12x12 buildings to work around the taxation issue is just plain cheating.

And perhaps these issues wouldn't have been so off-putting had they been addressed in the text. Instead, Powers came across as sanctimonious, certain of his righteousness and superiority, and frankly just plain pedantic. The writing was overloaded with unrelated musings and recountings of his past experiences, including his past relationship which resulted in a daughter. Very little of this had any bearing on his living in a small 12x12 structure. Actually, very little of the book indeed, had much of an account of his daily living there. While this is not intended to be a how to guide (and nor did I expect such), including more of the realities and challenges of a life so different from what most of us generally live would have made for a more interesting read. Simply condemning technology for technology's sake left this reader bored and came off as rather disingenuous given Powers' continued reliance on the technology of which he approves but simply removed from Jackie's homesite.

We do need to be more mindful of our impact on the environment but this book ultimately didn't even detail the author's striving to be mindful. A disappointment all the way around.

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