This year, following the theme of environmental sustainability, the common reading program chose No Impact Man by Colin Beavan. The book a pleasant story about a small family — two working writers, their two-year-old daughter and the family dog — as they embark on a year of living with no environmental impact.
The book reminds the reader that the author is not an environmentalist, that he is really just a man who drags his family along through an adventure with a vague sense of optimism and little else. Beavan has a six-phase plan that is implemented over the course of a year, transitioning slowly from one phase to the next until they’re the odd little family in New York City who use no electricity, never have garbage and walk everywhere — seriously, everywhere.
However, the book isn’t all light hearted. The way Beavan writes about his wife — who grew up in a luxurious lifestyle compared to Beavan’s homely childhood — subtly implies the ways this project affects their marriage. How detrimental would this spur-of-the-moment project be for the couple? Will Beavan understand that this was initially his independent project that he thrust upon his family and that there will be obvious hurdles his wife will face taking into consideration the lifestyle she was accustomed to living? Adding that plot to the mix of humourous anecdotes, collected research figures and bolded boxes for emphasis, the story lingers with the reader for weeks after reading it. It is a light summer book, aptly chosen for a reading program that takes place over the summer break.
That said, it seemed to be a little idealistic to say that removing all the items that clog their lives would lead them to a happier one. Beavan writes that they didn’t miss the television or the trinkets. He writes about how he and his wife did what was most valuable: spend more time with each other and their daughter — a quaint little resolution for no-impact man. It is a pleasant story arc, with the use of humour instead of piety as much environmentally driven literature have a habit of exploiting, with little reminders for the reader to reconsider their own habits and the difference between wants and needs.
Overall, the book was nothing spectacular. It was a cute story about a man who wanted to leave no impact on the world, but left one on his relationships with his family and friends. It’s not a manual for living better, but rather a funny memoir about a lazy liberal who wasn’t so lazy for a year, and relearned what matters most.