Thursday, August 22, 2013

Book Review - The Weekend Homesteader

I recently finished reading The Weekend Homesteader: A Twelve-Month Guide to Self-Sufficiency by Anna Hess. The book takes an interesting approach by organizing the material into projects by month. Each chapter is also available as its own e-book, but I found that it is best to own the book in its entirety, so that other chapters can be referenced as needed.

While Anna has several e-books available, including Trailersteading, in which Andrea and I were profiled, this was her first, and so far only, print book. I have read a lot of books by new authors, or those with only a couple of books published, and was impressed by this one. Since I was already familiar with Anna's writing style, through her e-books as well as her blog, I knew I would enjoy the writing. What I did not expect, however, was the quality of the book itself. Starting with the front cover the book is filled with photos, and has a quality feel to it. I applaud Anna for starting out right by going with a publisher that gave her book the treatment it deserved.

Even though the book is organized by month, with each chapter describing projects to tackle during that time of year, I recommend reading the book in its entirety the first time through. Anna will often reference back to things she discussed earlier in the book, which could be confusing for anyone who picks the book up in, say August, like I did, and started by reading just that chapter. I also found that some of the material did not always fit into the month into which it was grouped. In July, for example, is a section on Fall Planting. Garlic is included in the list of things to plant for fall, and while Anna does mention that garlic can be planted later in the fall than most other crops, I found it odd to be reading about it in the July chapter when it would likely not be planted until late October or early November. Also, the book is written based on the author's experiences with the climate in which she lives, which I believe is a zone 6a or 6b, or possibly a 7a. I live in a similar climate, so doing most of the projects in the months she suggests makes sense here, but those in a significantly different zone will likely need to adjust accordingly. Reading through the entire book will make those adjustments easier.

For the most part the projects in the book can be grouped into three categories, doing, planning, and thinking. The "doing" projects include things like constructing a rain barrel, planting a fruit tree, or roasting a chicken. The "planning" projects include things such as planning your summer garden, budgeting, and setting homestead goal. The "thinking" category includes tasks such as calculating your "real" hourly wage and being conscience of how the media affects you. While I didn't do any of the projects as I read, I believe that the "thinking" projects would have yielded very insightful results, and may very well go back and do those later.

One thing that amazed me about this book is the level of detail that Anna was able to give about the projects that she included. Most books with such a broad focus provide only summary information on any given topic. While covering a broad range of topics, however, this book keeps a narrow focus on each, which allows for much better coverage of each topic. In the section on growing your own mushrooms, for example, she limits the discussion to two types of mushrooms, which allows her to give enough details in fifteen pages for a reader to tackle the project with sufficient information to be successful.

This is one of those rare books that both starts and ends with statements that have stuck with me. The first made me smile, while the latter made me think.

In the introduction, while explaining what homesteading is, Anna says "Remember the back-to-the-land movement of the sixties and seventies? Homesteading is the same thing... without the drugs and free love". When I first read this, I thought, with a smile, that while I could do without the drugs, I wouldn't mind seeing a bit of that free love in the modern homesteading movement.

In the last chapter, titled "Learn to enjoy what you've got", while describing some of the emotional challenges that can come with the isolation common with homesteading, Anna makes a deeply philosophical statement; "In the end, you take yourself with you on the homesteading adventure, and if you're not happy with who you are, you really might be better off working a full-time job and sedating yourself with television in the evenings." While she could have ended that statement in a number of ways, it is the first part that really has the impact, at least to me. Perhaps being happy with oneself is the most important part of homesteading, or really in any venture, for that matter.


  1. I'm glad to hear that sentence in the beginning made you smile since another reviewer took major offense from it. Thank you for such a thoughtful review!