Tuesday, February 22, 2011

50 Books in a Year: Book #9 The Story of Stuff

Full Title
          I am a consumer. As I look around my living room, I see our extra ginormous TV, our DVDs, CDs, stereo equipment, dolls and other toys, and furniture, I wonder when I became such a collector of stuff.
          I decided to read this book (a free book from Free Press Blog Tours) from Simon and Schuster because I wanted to know what effect my consumption had on the world, I was not truly prepared for what I found out.
          This book (like the original video above) comes in five parts or chapters: Extraction, Production, Distribution, Consumption and Disposal. By the end of the first chapter I was feeling a little guilty about my meager shopping habits, my cheap t-shirts, my part in the oil wars in Nigeria--ie. my Nissan Sentra, miner and worker exploitation in foreign countries, the gold in my PS3 and the diamonds in my wedding ring. By the end of the second chapter I was feeling angry at Annie Leonard for bringing to light what happens because of my consumption...I love my wedding ring and my t-shirts and my computer, TV and electronics and don't even get me started on Disney. By the end of the book I vowed to do what I can to make the linear consumption graphic a closed loop.
          I found myself talking about this book to anyone who would listen. At lunch we talked about what our love of meat does to the environment and I brought up coffee (chapter one of the book) and t-shirts (throughout the book). We talked about it while grocery shopping (alumium cans are everywhere, people, really!). I struck up conversations with the kids who pumped by gas, checked my stuff out at Wal-Mart and came into my classrooms. I learned about the make-up of my make-up...thank goodness I don't wear much. I learned that Big Business and the government would prefer that I just buy, buy, buy without thinking of myself or others. I learned that in the 1950s, when we consumed less and led simplier lives, we were a happier nation...the data does not lie.
          However, there is hope. I like that at the end of every section Leonard takes time to tell each of us what we can do to not only create a greener environment that is sustainable, but to simplify our lives. I took Laclede county's pollution report card here and learned that we are the top 20% dirtiest counties in the US, I'm not surprised, we have a lot of factories. I learned that when buying diamonds (rocks I still love!) I can ask the jeweler questions provided from the diamond buying guide created by Amnesty International and Global Witness to make sure I am not buying blood or conflict diamonds. And, as for my t-shirts...I've learned I'm doing the right thing when I wear t-shirts from high school, wear your t-shirts until they wear down and then when you can't wear them anymore turn them into rags or a quilt. I've learned that I can be a responsible consumer and help write a new story about the history of stuff.
          Simply put, this book, while intense, is good and will change your life if you allow it to.

Oh and I forgot (today is Word of the Week Tuesday), instead of one word I have three:

Grey water: the act of filtering and reusing water to be used again.
Perceived Obsolescence: to 'perceive' an item as broken or obsolete because of taste or fashion manipulated by 'corporate decision makers, industrial designers, economic planners, and advertising men actively, strategically' promoting the next new idea or trend.
Toxics Release Inventory: 'a database of information about toxic chemicals releases, both via air and in waste.'

Have a blessed and lovely day!


  1. A book everyone should read, I think. I like to consider myself a conscientious consumer and am constantly looking for ways to recycle and repurpose all the things I own. Every town should have antique, consignment, thrift and used book stores; the things you buy don't have to be *new* to be useful and enjoyable.

  2. Hi Stephanie, what a wonderfully written, very personal review. Says it all. I so agree the book gets in your head! Cool idea to add the related definitions, there.

  3. Trish, I agree entirely and bookspersonally, thank-you for the lovely compliment! :)



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