Thursday, September 5, 2013

Book Review - A Way of Life Less Common

I discovered author Anna Hess, and her blog, The Walden Effect, by responding to her search for people to be interviewed for her book Trailersteading. Since then I have read, and reviewed, several of Anna's ebooks, and her lone print book, The Weekend Homesteader. Due to the way in which I discovered Anna, I was very interested to see that she, and partner Mark, had similarly been profiled in A Way of Life Less Common: Modern Day Pioneers Volume One  by Christine Dixon. I eagerly ordered a copy of the book, and put it at the very top of my reading list.

Since finishing the book I've been giving it a lot of thought, in preparation for writing this review. I even went so far as to ask for some feedback on the Homestead Library group on Earthineer, to see if others shared some of my concerns.

The book is uniquely formatted, in that it consists almost entirely of the text from interviews. There is a one page preface, and each couple or individual is introduced with a short summary, of a paragraph or two, but that is the extent to which the author lends her voice to the book. Not only is the rest of book made up entirely of interview questions and answers, but it appears that these were presented as-is, with little or no editing. I say this because there are situations in which the same information will be discussed multiple times in the same interview, because the info was given in the answer to one question, then another question was asked afterwards relating to that already given information. It seems this may be the result of a set of predefined interview questions being given, rather than the questions being adjusted based on the previous responses.

The people interviewed for the book come from a wide range of backgrounds, and are now living in a wide variety of locations and situations. I found that I did not really connect with most of those interviewed, however. Take, for example, the lady who mentioned her Lexus twice during the interview. I think its great that people are able to have nice things if they can afford it, but specifically referring to the car as a Lexus, twice, in a short interview, gives the perception that the car, and the status it provides, is of great importance. That isn't the type of "modern day pioneer" that I am likely to look to for inspiration.

The interview that really bothered me, though, was the one with the couple who finished their cabin on credit. I'm not against the use of credit; we financed both our property and the tractor. However, this couple specifically stated that they weren't worried about their credit score, since they intended to live a cash only lifestyle. Because they weren't concerned about their credit score, they maxed out multiple credit cards with no intention of paying back the loans. In fact, based on their account of the situation, they called the banks and informed them that they were broke and would not be paying them, and then it seems, washed their hands of the situation.

Personally, I find this behavior to be morally questionable, at best. I realize that readers of the book are, for the most part, adults who are free to make their own choices. However, I was very surprised that the author offered no commentary on this. The inclusion of this information in the book, without commentary, could give the impression that the author considers such actions to be acceptable, or even encourages them. I don't know if the author actually feels this way or not, since she doesn't tell us one way or another in the book. I find it to be irresponsible, though, to use this as an example of a successful approach to homesteading.

In the end I found that, for me, there were more negatives than positives with this book. I thought that the idea was a good one, and if the information had of been presented in more of a narrative format, it would have been better. Since the author added no material herself, I think that it would be better to just visit the blogs, websites, etc of those featured in the book, as one could likely learn more about their journeys, without the expense of buying the book.

Edit: After receiving a comment from Linda, of the couple who used credit cards to finish their cabin, I felt compelled to add note to the review. It appears that the circumstances surrounding the decision not to pay off the cards was quite different than it appeared from the quotes in the book, and that it was unforeseen circumstances which caused them to be unable to pay. If the original intent was to pay off the cards, this changes the situation dramatically. 


  1. Hi!
    I am, in fact, the author of this book, although I would not consider this a book I 'wrote'. The intention was to give examples of how others have have approached this lifestyle, not to judge how they did it. My intention was to stay as true to the responses as possible, without editing it to adhere to a particular style or accepted format. Those who choose to homestead are breaking the modern mold of what life is supposed to be like today. I appreciate the fact that you bought the book and took the time to review it. Nit-picking about someone mentioning their Lexus is rather silly however, unless you subscribe to the idea that homesteaders must be poor and are forced to live off the land as opposed to making an intelligent and informed choice to do so (rich, poor, or middle-class). I don't judge the contributors - that is not my place. My goal was to give examples of 'real' people and how they did it. Excluding someone because they achieved their goal in a way that may not sit well with everyone would not be right. The fact that I did not offer commentary on those I interviewed was because that simply was not the purpose of the book. I wanted to offer varying experiences from people of all walks of life. I do apologize that it did not sit well with you. I don't believe in censoring the real world for fear of offending someone. I believe in publishing the truth. I believe that the majority of my readers will be adult-enough to draw their own conclusions. People do repeat themselves in interviews, and so I allowed them to do so.
    If someone had mentioned their old truck twice it would not have even registered with you. As far as the credit card issue, I would not encourage anyone to do this, but I was not about to censor this. I debated not including that part of the interview, but I decided that if Linda and Charlie wanted to include it - I would include it. I asked the question and they answered it. This was non-fiction, not fiction, nor was it a sugar-coated version of the truth. People get enough of that on TV and in the media everyday.
    Thank you again for taking the time to review the book. I appreciate your input as much as the next person. I truly do. When the next volume is released, it will again include 'real' interviews with real people. I'm sorry that you did not enjoy reading about these interesting, and adventurous people. Getting to know each and every one was a pleasure, and I hope that all who do read the book will feel as if they have learned something, I did. This was an extremely enjoyable and inspiring process and I am so grateful to all who contributed their time and their journey.

    1. Thank you for the comment Christine. I'm sorry that you felt that my mention of the Lexus was nit-picking. As stated in the review, I think its great that people are able to afford nice things. I just feel that specifically referring to it by name gives the perception that the person is focused on status. Whether this is accurate or not I do not know. Either way, the mention of that wasn't intended as a negative about the book itself. It was simply the example I chose to give of someone from the book I did not really connect with. You're right, if someone had mentioned their old truck twice it wouldn't have registered. Likewise, if they had mentioned their car, SUV, mini-van, or other mode of transportation it would have not stood out. It has been my observation, though, that often when people refer to an expensive item by name, it is because they hope to gain the status that comes with people knowing they own such an item. If, when asked what time it was, a person responded with, "Let me check my Rolex", I'd feel the same way.

  2. After reading your critique of the book i felt terrible. i am Linda Roberts, i went back to read the portion you discuss, at length, and include it here to correct you in a portion of your comments: Page 125 Charlie "...We finished the inside on credit cards which we maxed.We didn't care about having a zero credit rating as we operate on the philosphy of having an 'identity' that nobody wants to steal anyway, in other words as close to a cash economy as we can arrange". Linda "...we finished on credit. We contacted the creditors and told them we were broke and wouldn't be paying them back. Most of them took it very well."
    In re-reading the portion about the credit card debt i agree with you that it presents an attitude that appears at best cavalier and at worst criminal.
    However, no where does it say that we did so with malice aforethought which you state in your 'review' as follows "with no intention of paying back the loans". That is simply not true We did not know that we wouldn't be able to pay off the credit cards. Charlie was receiving money from his brother in England, who was both the Executor and a beneficiary of his father's will.
    At the same time we had our little house in Haileybury up for sale. The garage next door to the house experienced a fuel leak in a new tank and gossip, not the environmental assessment that said our property was free of the fuel, determined that the house did not sell. In summer 2003 Charlie's mental health issues became a problem after his brother's method of payment began fluctuating during building. I had gone off of Ontario Disability 2 years earlier since i was, i felt, well enough to work. Charlie was on CPP disability and had not been hospitalized for his mental illness since 1993. Based on Charlie's escalating mental health problems and my belief that the family money issue was the priority so we cancelled it. we had a letter notarized and sent it off. We began finishing the house on our own using our credit instead of our house equity and inheritance, both now gone.
    The credit card companies (3 companies, small sums) were contacted and we explained our situation. We had phone interviews with bank representatives who, when finding out we had a 1986 truck and no other assets, that our house had been forclosed upon in town due to a local gas spill and that we were both disabled, decided to 'write us off'. Except for one company we did not receive bills from them. However that in no way excuses the tone of our comments.
    It is for this that i appologize. However, i disagree with your belief that we are somehow turning people into crooks with these four sentences.
    In closing i can assure you that our present contributions to magazines, books and online communications These days i am considerably more aware of the power of our position and am also a more practised editor.
    I further appologize for my errors in judgement casting a pall on Christine's good work and effort to show REAL people who, yes-are happy to have a cool car, are trying different ways to live.and are most certainly unusual. We are all making a wacky effort to change, which can certainly include poor judgement, good intentions gone awry and even low financial morals. We all share one thing-the unifying thread that holds the entire book together and that, perhaps in your zeal, you seem to have missed.
    We are all of us looking for a more respectful life, a more honest way of living. Even with the credit card debt the entire rest of the chapter about us and the chapters about everyone in Christine's book contain words of Hope from some strange people living in unusual ways....
    After all, it's the damaged souls that are often the most daring, most brave and most interesting.

    All the best from the bush
    Linda Roberts Sailer

    1. Linda, I appreciate your comment. I agree that the clarification you provided paints a much different picture than the perception I was given from the book. There is certainly a significant difference between using credit cards with the intention of paying them off, only to find oneself unable to do so due to unforeseen circumstance, and using the cards with no intention of ever paying. It sounds like your situation was the former, even though I felt the description in the book made it sound as though it was the latter. I'm glad that you wrote to share the real story.