Please note: I first published this book review on the “Goodreads”-website in 2023.
My rating: 3 (of 5) “stars”
I bought a paperback edition of this book some 15+ years ago, which was published by Pocket Books, a division of publishing house Simon & Schuster. You can still buy copies from this publisher (different edition, different cover art).
This book was first published in 2006, and it’s a bit outdated; Judith Levine describes a year – 2004 – during which she and her partner tried to make do with less and only buy essential items.
As many other readers who posted reviews on “goodreads.com” pointed out, she and her partner owned three cars, two homes, and they were in the middle of adding a fairly large extension to their house in Vermont. She also accepted invitations and gifts from friends throughout the year, and considered professional haircuts “essential” (they’re really not). She did not buy a gift for her niece’s college graduation but gifted her jewelry which she herself had received from her mother as a gift many years earlier, which I think is a thoughtful and meaningful gift. But she did buy clothes for herself during the trip she took to attend her niece’s graduation. It wasn’t a “year without shopping,” but it was a year during which she shopped less than usual and a year during which she became more aware of her impulse spending habits and managed to curb them considerably.
There’s one passage in which she describes going cross-country skiing and forgetting her skiing wax at home. She makes a big deal of her decision to ask a store clerk whether she can “borrow” some skiing wax. (He gifts it to her.) She writes about this anecdote to illustrate a point: that we (consumers) find it difficult to ask for help, especially from someone who makes a living selling the exact thing you need or want for free. My thoughts on that? You don’t necessarily need to wax your skis in order to ski. Make do without, it’s really not a big deal. It’s a badly chosen anecdote to make a point about a larger issue. She does come across as somewhat entitled, and is whining on a very high level.
Yes, she and her partner were cutting back, and saving money, and she raises many good points about the destructive effects of consumerism, but some of the diary entries – e.g., the one from November 26, where she participated in a “Buy Nothing Day” demonstration – are too preachy, and boring to read.
All in all, I give this book three “stars.”