Michael Harris has done it again – he’s written a significant book I wish everyone would read. If you’re a (semi or) regular reader of The Art Caravan you’ll know that I’m a big fan of his writing. Here’s a post about his book Solitude and here’s a post about his first book, The End of Absence.
Apparently I’m in good company recommending his newest work All We Want: Building the Life We Cannot Buy. The writers Susan Orlean and Barbara Gowdy agree with me. In praising the book, they both describe Michael Harris and his writing as humane. John Vaillant, award winning author of The Golden Spruce says All We Want is … lovingly rendered. My unfiltered, unpublished spontaneous response: What a damn fine writer!
In all his books, Harris discusses challenging topics in a easily readable style. Relevant history and facts are integrated with personal stories. And don’t we all love a good story?
In All We Want he addresses the life-threatening effects of our consumer culture.
Life is not a story. It’s many.
When, in the twentieth century, many of us narrowed things down to the single story of consumption we unwittingly narrowed our view of the natural world, too — the Earth became just one more thing to consume. (p.150)
Michael Harris’ anecdotes take us from forest fires in British Columbia to the Vancouver landfill. We visit a cabin somewhere (!) near Banff, Alberta – the remote home of a modern day maker of objects such as canoes, all hand made, composed of natural materials. We also spend time hiking with the author and his husband in the Rocky Mountains. And finally, we experience the challenges of a parent’s decline and admittance to a complex care facility.
If you’re like me, you’re thinking….I know there’s a climate crisis. Aarghh…I feel helpless. I don’t want to read about it, too. I understand. But….it is beautifully written. It’s a work of art to savour.
More importantly, perhaps, this book gives me hope. Harris answers the question How then should we live? with three different stories to replace the story of consumption. It probably comes at no surprise to readers of The Art Caravan that the first of Harris’ alternative responses to consumer culture is craft.
When we constantly disregard the material authenticity of things, when we live for digital facsimiles and obliging reproductions, we train ourselves to stop respecting the real costs, benefits, timelines and laws that govern the natural world. And to do away with such cares is to become thoughtless about environmental impact. Craft is a cure for such a heedless mindset. It trains our eyes to marvel, and not just when we study wood and stone. (p.96)
Can you guess the other two stories Harris offers as antidotes to consumer culture? You may be surprised, or, you may think, as I did: Of course. That makes so much sense. Thanks for reminding and encouraging me.
I can’t lend you my copy, as I’ve decided I want to re-read it. ( It’s a keeper.) No doubt you can find it at your library or local independent bookshop.
When consumer culture offers something finished, Craft offers something coming into being; where consumer culture offers something you own, the Sublime offers something beyond your grasp; and where consumer culture offers satisfaction, Care offers sacrifice and devotion. (p.151)