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The Monday Book: THE MAN WHO QUIT MONEY by Mark Sundeen

Jack handed me this book, said it had wafted into the bookstore, and that I would like it.

He was right. Daniel Suelo, the title character, grew up in a Christian household where, as he put it in an interview, he was at university before he realized “You could be a Christian and a Democrat at the same time.”

How this guy wound up living, not just off the grid, but out of the system, is a wonderful timeline in and of itself, but I admit freely I loved the book because he set up milemarkers at some of my favorite intellectual curiosity points.

Switching from pre-med to anthropology, he worked on a book about the sacred feminine, started thinking about social justice mixed with theology, joined the Peace Corps and watched what “missionary” meant when money turned into salvation, and pretty much decided “Nah.”

Sundeen is a sensitive writer, his telling of the story digging deep into roots but leaving blooms untouched. He handles very spiritual discussion with what can only be called pragmatic respect.

But his analysis isn’t limited to the big ideas. He also explains, in head-swimming detail, how to conduct a successful dumpster dive, one of the many ways in which Suelo eats. And eats well.

He sleeps in a cave, uses wifi at the library, will not beg or use social services, but does trade labor for stuff. Suelo volunteers at a women’s shelter. Sundeen takes care to paint a picture of a man who is not surviving, but thriving. And having fun thinking it through.

The discussions, the ideas, and the practical hints for people who may not want to get off the road entirely, but would like to travel more lightly, made this a lovely read for me. (Not that the book is a how-to; it’s a “what he did,” and Suelo takes pains to explain to Sundeen, and by proxy those reading about him, that there is no way to “sort of” live this lifestyle. If you use a little bit of money or trade or social services, you wind up using all of it.

And for all that the concepts are huge and thought-provoking, Sundeen’s writing style makes the words slide past your eyes so fast, you’re surprised later at how much you remember, how much time you’ve spent thinking about them. When Jack handed me the book, I was busy and started reading just to see if I’d like the writing. Sixty pages later, I glanced up, still standing up by the dining room table. Jack had just left me there when he couldn’t gain my attention.

This is Suelo’s Facebook page if you want to visit: https://www.facebook.com/themanwhoquitmoney.

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Filed under book reviews, home improvements, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, reading, Wendy Welch, what's on your bedside table, writing

The Monday Book: OFF THE GRID by Nick Rosen

Sorry about not getting a blog up over the weekend. We had a massive group from Berea College visiting because of my new (academic) book Public Health in Appalachia. We had a great time with the team and will be blogging about it later this week. And we’re more or less back on schedule now, and proud of the fact that we fed 42 people in our bookstore all at the same time – a triumph of logistics over space. :]

off the gridUsually I only do Monday Books that I’ve loved, and I admit that this one is kind of a “like.” Rosen’s book is interesting, but suffers from that thing that often happens to researchers who turn their work into a popular narrative style of writing: repetition and lack of a story line.

(Oh, did I just hear my agent giggling? Believe me, the words “narrative arc” come out of that wise woman’s mouth 12 times a day. And gosh darn it, she’s right. We want a beginning, middle, and end that look different from each other, strung together with smaller stories that flow toward a conclusion.)

Rosen writes about people who get off the power grid in the United States, for reasons ranging from dropping off one end after running out of money, to buying their way off the other end as rich, powerful, and/or famous citizens. (A lot of TV and film stars have off-the-grid hideouts.)

In between he covers off-gridders one might not think about, like truck drivers. And of course he includes survivalists and hippies and that controversial Mike Reynolds guy who “invented” earthships. I helped build an earthship in Scotland at a local sustainable farming community; that’s when I learned to make walls from bottles and shoes from tires. Neither of these have served me much in my present career as a bookseller, but I figure if A***on finally does us in one day, I can get great mileage out of my eclectic knowledge base and homemade sandals.

Thing is, Off the Grid, published in 2010, doesn’t so much talk about how to go off-grid as describe how it has turned out for a bunch of people who did, which gets repetitive after awhile, and also starts to skim across surfaces, hinting at conflicts and conspiracies and confusions that don’t get fully explored. (He did write, in 2008, a book that appears to be more how to.)

If you like storytelling in your stories, you may not like Off the Grid very much. I like reading about off-grid lifestyles, so I enjoyed this book. If you’re looking for how-to, try his 2008 book. If you’re looking for how-it-went-for-us, this is a good read. And if you’re into psychology-driven narrative, you’ll have a field day with what Rosen isn’t saying between the lines of what he is.

As a side note for those who have heard me talk about discovering St. Martin’s wanted to publish LITTLE BOOKSTORE on the same day that the last BORDERS bookstores announced their imminent closure, this is one of the two books I bought from BORDERS that day.

 

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