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The Simplicity Primer:not exactly a book review

Patrice Lewis of the Rural Revolution blog sent me a copy of her new book more than a month ago. I’ve been enjoying it since then, but hesitating because I wasn’t sure how best to review it.

I’m still not sure. But since it’s in danger of becoming an old book before I wrap my brain around it, here I am with a few thoughts.

Her book is The Simplicity Primer: 365 ideas for making life more livable. You can get it for $10.85 at Amazon using that link, which gives a portion of the purchase price to me. CHANGE: Our hosts here at BHM have asked me to remove the Amazon link and remind you that you can buy the book from the BHM bookstore.

Right out I’ll tell you that if you’re a Christian libertarian or anarchist — particularly if you’re in a couple or raising a family or planning to be — you should have this book. Don’t hesitate. Just buy it. It’s lovely. And it’s something you’ll want to keep by your bedside for reference on those ragged days when you really, really need to be reminded of what matters. Or on any day, for that matter.

I don’t mean to imply that The Simplicity Primer excludes non-believers. Not at all. I didn’t feel excluded despite Patrice’s gentle barbs at those of us who reach for belief but come back to earth empty handed. Her observations are wise, and her sources are more likely to be Henry David Thoreau and a handful of B.C. Greeks than anybody from the hellfire and damnation crowd. Nor did I feel excluded by virtue of being single or childless.

Even if you’re not in Patrice’s primary audience, there’s plenty in this book to soothe your heart and remind you where your priorities lie if a simple life is your goal.

She also writes with disarming humor and with a clear understanding of life’s complexities. Two adjacent entries, for instance, are headed “Move to the country” and “Don’t move to the country.”

To give you a bit more of a taste, here are Patrice’s major category headings:

  • Getting personal (about self improvement)
  • Getting along (you and your spouse or partner)
  • Teach your children well
  • Amazing grace (living your religion)
  • Home is where the heart is
  • To your health
  • Your daily bread
  • Nine-to-five simplicity
  • It’s easy being green
  • Time off for good behavior (relaxation and recreation)
  • Nothing new under the sun
  • Radical simplicity

Patrice acknowledges a central paradox: getting to simplicity can be complex. And achieving simplicity doesn’t mean you’ll never again have a bad day or never again feel overwhelmed by trials or responsibilities. Simplicity also doesn’t mean you’ll live in the backwoods without electricity (unless you want to) or have 400-thread-count Egyptian cotton sheets (which a certain magazine, which Patrice and I both laugh about, seems to feel is key to the simple life).

Patrice gets right to her one of her key definitions on page 4:

If I had to summarize what it takes to achieve a simpler life in three words or less, it would be these: make good choices

Choices. Don’t choose to marry a person who’s got bad news tattooed all over him (or her). Don’t choose to saturate your girl-children in pre-adolescent sexuality. Don’t let your friends or family dictate your choices in anything that matters. When your gut is trying to tell you something, listen. Be polite. Acknowledge that men and women tend to think differently and have different needs in relationships. Be the first to apologize after an argument. Get a handle on your cravings.

None of this is simple to do. And it’s even harder once you’ve made the Big Mistakes (haven’t we all?) and have to extricate yourself from them or live with the consequences. But Patrice is right: good choices go hand-in-hand with strength and integrity. They lead us and our loved ones on a calmer path through the world’s chaos.

Keeping Patrice Lewis’ Simplicity Primer by bedside or hearthside could definitely help most any of us — but especially couples or parents — keep to the simple path.

10 Comments

  1. Pat
    Pat September 26, 2011 4:37 am

    Good summation, Claire. I’ve read the book and you nailed the essence of it.

    It’s not, however, a book I’d keep around to learn from. In the first place, most of it is old hat — either I’ve heard it before, or figured it out for myself. Secondly, there was too much “attitude” in it — those Christian homilies didn’t jive with me, nor did the implication that “this way is the right way.”

    It may be her style. I’ve read her before and continue to, and in fact I bought “The Home Craft Business” book she sells. But her writing doesn’t always come through as charming as it could be, or as she may be. For me, at any rate.

  2. Claire
    Claire September 26, 2011 6:34 am

    FWIW, to me the book’s value doesn’t lie in any new revelations. You’re right; it doesn’t have many of those. But its simple one-page “sound bites” about good decision-making and core values make good reminders. On those days when we’re frazzled and off-track, we might not need new as much as we need a pointer back to basics.

    I didn’t object to the religious aspects as much as you did, but yes, they’re definitely there.

  3. RKBAGAL
    RKBAGAL September 26, 2011 9:05 am

    People who wear their religion on their sleeves annoy me to the point I am unlikely to to take them seriously. I suppose I could be missing out on some good info as a result but I can live with that.

  4. Scott
    Scott September 26, 2011 10:09 am

    I used to work for a religious college,and most went by the Let Your Actions Speak For You method. Proselytizing generally doesn’t work. I haven’t read this book,but it does sound sort of interesting. I don’t have a problem with anyone’s religious beliefs(or lack thereof) as long as they’re not obnoxious about it…makes for a good conversation, sometimes.

  5. Claire
    Claire September 26, 2011 11:08 am

    I share the dislike of people who flaunt their religion and I’m thoroughly sick of those who come banging on my door with their implied threats of divine wrath as a punishment for differences of opinion. But I have to point out that I don’t think that’s what Patrice Lewis is doing at all.

    She believes that religious faith — not just vague spirituality, but a specific belief in a specific diety — helps guide and simplify life. Even with my lack of religion, I can see her point. I think my most devout friends do often have simpler lives.

    Including religion as an aspect of simple living was a natural for her and it’s only one part of the book. Definitely, though, anybody who’s bothered by that might want to look elsewhere.

  6. clark
    clark September 26, 2011 12:41 pm

    Your sticky post at the top of your blog made it seem like you weren’t posting. … then one day I accidentally scrolled down and found you were blogging on without me. … Ahhh, “Stickied.” I see now, it wasn’t exactly clear.

    Just thought I”d mention that as I’m guessing others might have the same size PC screen as I do and think you’re not posting.

  7. Claire
    Claire September 26, 2011 12:44 pm

    Sorry about that, clark! That’s terrible. I’ll add a note right now saying, “Scroll down for newer posts.”

  8. naturegirl
    naturegirl September 26, 2011 1:12 pm

    I use to hang around Patrice’s blog quite a bit….her insight into rural living is not only a wealth of info, it’s presented exactly the way it really is…..The religious parts weren’t my thing, but it was easy to skip over, most of the time…..The biggest differences between her world and my world comes in risk taking, and I’d even venture to say that it’s probably easier to live simply and make good choices out in the middle of nowhere vs right in the middle of civilization of masses that are imploding…..and it’s probably easier to make good choices when you don’t have 50+ different “considerations” included, not to mention having to be quicker to make that choice…..

    She’s a good writer, and has managed to make a good life true to herself ~ and for that I have to applaud her successes….Sometimes humans need to be reminded to make aspects of life more simple and not turn molehill situations into mountains; not to mention to focus on the things that they have do control over (or pick the right battles in life)…..

  9. Steve Harris
    Steve Harris September 26, 2011 4:51 pm

    Thanks for the review. I’ll probably put it one the ‘To do’ list since I’m a bit short on faith and my kids are grown so I’ve already made the mistakes there. I definitely could have used this advice before wife #1. I waited 17 years before trying again and I must have learned something along the way.

    PJ O’Rourke said something to the effect that we like to talk about ‘learning from our experiences’ since it makes us feel less stupid. I devoted way too much of my life to getting those experiences.

    Steve

  10. MamaLiberty
    MamaLiberty September 27, 2011 10:04 am

    Thanks for presenting another probably valuable volume to add to my STAGGERING pile of stuff to read!!! AGGGG

    Just kidding… I think… but it does sound interesting, at least as a gift for some of my friends who still think they can’t live without a beach or a starbucks nearby.

    Will definitely check it out. 🙂

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