About Me

Ithaca, New York
MWF, now officially 42, loves long walks on the beach and laughing with friends ... oh, wait. By day, I'm a mid-level university administrator reluctant to be more specific on a public forum. Nights and weekends, though, I'm a homebody with strong nerdist leanings. I'm never happier than when I'm chatting around the fire, playing board games, cooking up some pasta, and/or road-tripping with my family and friends. I studied psychology and then labor economics in school, and I work in higher education. From time to time I get smug, obsessive, or just plain boring about some combination of these topics, especially when inequality, parenting, or consumer culture are involved. You have been warned.

Monday, September 7, 2009

#81 - The Not So Big Life

Last night, I finished Sarah Susanka's The Not So Big Life: Making Room for What Really Matters (Random House, 2007). I considered all sorts of plays on the title for this review -- the not so good book, the not so big seller -- but ultimately, decided the jury's still out for me. I really enjoyed Susanka's The Not So Big House, and will probably pick up Not So Big Remodeling if and when we finally get around to that remodel we've been chewing over for almost a decade now. (Hmm, I guess I should get busy with 1000 Best Job Hunting Secrets first.) I'm not sure, though, if this book -- in which, according to the dust jacket, "Susanka takes her revolutionary philosophy to another dimension by showing us a new way to inhabit our lives" -- really works.

Part of the problem may be with the dust jacket, actually. An excerpt:
"Tthe bigger-is-better idea that triggered the explosion of McMansions has spilled over to give us McLives. ... Our schedules are chaotic and overcommitted, leaving us so stressed that we are numb, yet we wonder why we cannot fall asleep at night. In The Not So Big Life, Susanka shows us that it is possible to take our finger off the fast-forward button, and to our surprise we find how effortless and rewarding this change can be."
Based on this, I was expecting something along the same lines as Affluenza and Simple Prosperity. Well, I was wrong. I guess it's A Good Thing (thanks, Martha) that this isn't yet another book about voluntarily simplicity; the topic has pretty much been done to death by now, and I think it's hard to bring much new to the discussion. However, while Susanka's concept -- applying architectural principles to the construction of our own lives -- is interesting, it doesn't seem particularly well-executed, and feels forced or New Age-y (granted, at least she recognizes the potential for skepticism here) as often as not.

Most of the first part of the book is fairly abstract in nature, which is usually a turn-off for me; I'm no architect, but when it comes to reading, I like my concrete. Some of the architecture: life parallels are interesting ("There's a perfect parallel between our attempts to find home by building bigger and our attempts to find satisfaction by buying stuff and staying busy. These obsessions have hidden from view what matters to us and what brings a sense of meaning to our lives."), but others seem strained at best ("Our lives could benefit from [sliding door or screen] flexibility, but most of us have only standard-size swinging doors between the various compartments of our lifes, giving us a limited sense of flow.") The written exercises which appear throughout the text also seem uneven, though I didn't actually attempt any of them.

I was intrigued by the latter part of the book, in which Susanka talks more about mindfulness and meditation ... enough so that despite everything I've said above, I've considered picking up a secondhand copy of the book to own (this one's a library copy), and working through some of the exercises in my journal (yeah, I'm a college town-livin', long hair-wearin', tofu and bean-cookin' neo-hippie wannabe, and your point is??). I'm not sure, though, if Susanka's training as an architect or even her own experience with meditation makes her the most qualified person to write or teach others about these topics. In short, some good ideas, but only so-so execution.

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