Should you add the latest green-living books to your library?
It’s easy writing green, or so this year’s deluge of eco-tippy books would indicate. But are any of the latest feel-good, change-a-light-bulb tomes decent? No doubt our own volume, Wake Up and Smell the Planet, is still No. 1 on your toilet tank — but we thought we’d take a look at how the recent entries stack up, from the titillating to the downright doorstop-worthy.
Going Green: A Wise Consumer’s Guide to a Shrinking Planet
Sally Kneidel, Ph.D., and Sadie Kneidel
Fulcrum Publishing, May 2008
Green on the cover: Minimal, although the row of shopping carts inexplicably induces vertigo
Tone: The mother-daughter team begins disarmingly down-to-earth and realistic, but some of the “Community Voices” anecdotes get a bit dull.
Oh no they didn’t: This one could lose some of its “wise consumer” readers in the three meaty chapters (and teeny footnotes) that come before the sections on food and clothing; a multi-page section about a straw-bale home in South Carolina is particularly wearisome and, like the book’s other sidebars, in minuscule font. The last two chapters, on paper products and investing, feel thin and tacked-on.
But props for this: The duo’s previous book explored vegetarianism, and they really shine in the food chapter — a list of foods with unlabeled GM ingredients is scary and helpful. Occasional nuggets of Gristalicious humor add zest, like the section title “The downside of huge breasts” (on poultry farming). And this was the only book printed on chlorine-free paper made with 100 percent post-consumer waste, so its pages aren’t an unnatural, blinding white.
Likelihood of making Oprah’s book list, on a scale of 1 to 10: 3
Easy Green Living: The Ultimate Guide to Simple, Eco-Friendly Choices for You and Your Home
Rodale Books, April 2008
Green on the cover: Palatable, but must her eyes be green, too?
Tone: A hip, Zen goddess from some blend of Hollywood and the Garden of Eden advises. With her chicness, the author — who hosts a celeb-studded green lifestyle cable show — makes even quasi-hippie things like crystal deodorant seem like natural choices.
Oh no they didn’t: Although we can’t all live in Maui and emerge from the surf like someone in an eco-shampoo commercial, the topics Loux addresses are admittedly quite useful. But too often, she misses either the big picture (there’s an entire chapter on light bulbs) or the key details (her guide to green cleaning supplies doesn’t say how effective the products are).
But props for this: Though its scope is limited to the contents of your house — sans garage — the book is mercilessly thorough, well-organized, and readable.
Likelihood of making Oprah’s book list, on a scale of 1 to 10: 8
Green Chic: Saving the Earth In Style
Sourcebooks, Inc., March 2008
Green on the cover: An inescapable, puke-worthy swath of lime
Tone: A chat with your biodynamic wine-sipping friend who sprinkles in anecdotes about her fiancé and the engagement ring he carved her out of reclaimed wood. Being green is fahbulous, dahling!
Oh no they didn’t: The back cover boasts that “Green women don’t get fat,” and sadly, that promise is less tongue-in-cheek than you might hope. Inside, we learn that, “Being green can help you look gorgeous, have a killer wardrobe, feel amazing, travel in style, create a home that’s an oasis, host fun parties, eat incredible food, and drink phenomenal wine, all while feeling more connected to your friends, family, and nature.” Squeal!
But props for this: A guide to CFLs for various parts of your house keeps rooms from ending up “way too bright and way too blue.” Matheson mentions the “if it’s yellow” rule and endorses Sheryl Crow’s infamous “one square” suggestion. And she says reducing your consumption can also reduce stress (and that’s “fabulous”) … but overall, it’s difficult for the reader to untangle the concepts of the glamorous girl-about-town and rampant consumption.
Likelihood of making Oprah’s book list, on a scale of 1 to 10: 6
Green Living for Dummies
Yvonne Jeffery, Liz Barclay, and Michael Grosvenor
For Dummies, February 2008
Green on the cover: Mercifully little, as the series’ trademark bumblebee scheme dominates
Tone: In this case, the familiar Dummy-next-door practicality is aimed primarily at parents and homeowners.
Oh no they didn’t: The chapter on food leaves something to be desired — while it has an informative section on GM foods, there’s no explanation of which foods are most important to buy organic. And the chapter on clothing has tantalizing, DIY pictures of an old sweater becoming a semi-cute wrap, but where are the instructions?
But props for this: The book starts by examining overconsumption, nonrenewable fuels, and severe weather, and a box on “The problems with suburbia” offers a surprisingly non-dumb, big-picture approach — refreshing, if not blindingly original. DIY advice includes tips for creating an energy-efficiency program at your kids’ school and a list of 10 ways to repair and reuse household items like plates and furniture, although some are more plausible than others.
Likelihood of making Oprah’s book list, on a scale of 1 to 10: 2
50 Simple Steps to Save the Earth from Global Warming
The Green Patriot Working Group
Freedom Press, January 2008
Green on the cover: A tolerable amount of nauseating olive
Tone: In case you weren’t tipped off by the byline, it’s your older, no-nonsense, Republican relative explaining why caring about the planet puts hair on your chest.
Oh no they didn’t: The foreword, penned by a former CIA chief, is complete with “objectives,” former presidents, and the authors’ definition of Green Patriotism (“Environmentalism, National Security, and Public Health — Three Victories for the Price of One!”). It’s hard not to picture muskets. The authors are occasionally too euphemistic; taking the Greyhound is a way to “see and meet a lot of interesting people who might not otherwise cross your path.” And good luck convincing kids it’s fun to pretend they’re living in the 1800s for “Low-Carbon Family Night.”
But props for this: While much of the book is a retread of familiar enviro wisdom, step 29, buying organic supplements, was actually thought-provoking. Step 49, “Know the Green Side of God,” had cringe potential, but devotes paragraphs to Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism in addition to evangelical Christianity. And while the book is peppered with mentions of God, it earns snaps for trying to reach a population that’s been skeptical of climate change.
Likelihood of making Oprah’s book list, on a scale of 1 to 10: 1
MySpace/OurPlanet: Change Is Possible
MySpace community with Jeca Taudte
HarperTeen, March 2008
Green on the cover: A minty green tree in addition to the title
Tone: Well-intenshund teens who kant spel offer advice: “picture the world as a huge bed, would you want to sleep in a bed that has been poluted with garbage and dangeruse chemicals?”
Oh no they didn’t: At times, this collection of green tips interspersed with insights from MySpace users seems targeted primarily at upper-middle-class white kids in suburbia — and maybe it is. The user comments could’ve done with some editing so the spelling, grammar, and emoticons wouldn’t hurt the eyes, and the organization is confusing and not intuitive.
But props for this: The book’s voice is hipper than most, and its authors cut through the crap teen readers won’t buy anyway with a good news/bad news feature pointing out the virtues and vices of things like biofuels, online shopping, and carbon offsets. “Micro” and “MACRO” bubbles highlight which actions make the biggest diff, and the lists of green movies and green celebs are reminiscent of Grist — a poorly edited Grist aimed at the junior high set, but still.
Likelihood of making Oprah’s book list, on a scale of 1 to 10: 4