Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Blue Bookends

I was really excited to get an advance copy of Notes From A Blue Bike to review. I care deeply about these topics on organization and intentional living and from the start I was excited to hear what this writer had to say. Unfortunately, while it’s a nice read, I didn't feel like there was a lot of information shared that I didn't already know, apart from the author’s personal life experiences.  But if I ever had something published I wouldn't want someone to chuck a flame-thrower at my work and walk away, I'd want to know what I got right first.

I'm not familiar with the author, so I'm sure I'm not one of the hundreds of people from her blog who will write a glowing review just because she wrote something. The tone of the book vacillates between thoughtful journaling and being a bit of a snob. Not being a regular reader of Oxenreider’s blog I'm sure I'm missing some context for her perspective and experience. In the middle of some of these “notes” I began to wonder if these were just recycled blog posts that were tossed together under thematic banners, but I digress…

We’ll start with the positive: It’s a readable, accessible book. People who write blogs and then become book-writers don't often lose any of their blogger voice. That can work for the reader when there’s a how-to element to the book. If it sounds like a friend sharing, or instructing then it’s much more likely you’ll stay attached to the text and maybe even adopt some of the recommendations. There were drawbacks to her tone at time, but more about that later, I'm staying positive.

Another positive is that there are actually good recommendations for categorizing your goals (hers were Food, Work, Education, Travel and Entertainment). I think trying to tackle something as large as all of the loose ends of your life would be overly labor-intensive. Big picture first, then nitty gritty details. The big areas of our life would be Finances, Health, Education and Outreach. I think we can pretty much file all of our day to day cares, hopes, goals, and work under those. So, readers can find their own big topics and start brainstorming what they care about and how they want to live. I also appreciated the trial and error honesty in the Education section. Trying something new with conviction is good. Just as good is to know when to stop. The room to fail is an important thing in families and children need to know that even with big decisions there is room to switch gears most of the time. There are also a fair amount of suggestions to consider for your food journey (we'd already explored options, so it wasn't a revelation to me to look at local delivery or farmer's market options, but it might be for someone else just starting this journey). 

Finally, I love the idea of topics like this being a conversation, whether with your spouse, children or friends, these things are great to talk through so you’re not working in a silo. You're going to find successes and failures in others’ experiences and that can be really helpful when you're not trying to waste time re-inventing the wheel. It’s also nice, as things fall into place and as you feel more intentional about your life, to be able to help others get there, too. No one has to sign off on what your family is intentional about, except your family, so discussion is great, but commitment is a different thing. Good to keep that in mind if this becomes a round table discussion with friends. I felt myself being judge-y about some of Oxenreider's choices, but since I don't have to make the commitment myself, I shouldn't care. Admittedly, I didn't read every discussion question, but the one’s I did read were good.

So, here are my reservations about this particular book: If you're a Tsh devotee you may just want to skip to the last paragraph to avoid getting royally ticked off over any criticism of this work at all.

Tone: When you're trying to share your experiences and what you've learned there’s a fine line between sharing and snobbery, between recommendations and accusation. Overlooking how many times she mentioned she was an "expat", I was completely with her in the Food section, our family having asked and answered many of the same questions of food source, quality and cooking ourselves. But I had to bristle at remarking about the “insipid grocery store eggs”. Grocery stores all over the US sell organic, free-range eggs from chickens that are treated well, live locally and are not injected with hormones. I didn't want to over-react, but man, she sounded like a jerk there. Yep, not everyone can raise chickens or hit the farmer’s market, but responsible eggs can be found at the grocery store, too. There were several other examples of where she slipped over into being way too opinionated about what was “right”, since I don't think she meant “just for her family”. It’s just a rude way to deliver a message. The complication of the memoir-ish tone is that it wasn't just “here’s what we did”, she instructs as well, which means you have to be more thoughtful about who is receiving that instruction. Maybe she assumes everyone who picks up her book is just like her, but I would have been more cautious about my adjectives.

Celebrity and Autonomy: In my favorite section on Education she felt the need to mention her readership in her decision-making, and place herself in a position of notoriety or celebrity: being on the fence of the homeschoolers and traditional education folks. I think it’s a ridiculous thing to call out even if it felt like a true part of her life. It’s not relatable, so I think it should have been omitted for the sake of all of us who were in that car with her, crying as moms over the things we want, but cannot make happen… then she has to squawk about her readership? You lost me. 

Finally, where the heck is the bike? I think it’s a little strange to use a bike as your banner to readers:  eco-friendly, healthy, local and then spend 99% of the book on planes, in cars and not on the bike. As far as I could tell the bike was bookending the whole thing, but not much else.  For all of the analyzing Oxenreider does, she doesn't document one minute of scrutinizing whether the money spent on travel to visit her “Compassion” child in another country would have been better off given directly to the family whose circumstances were so dire. Was it worth the pollution and gas too? Such is the position of people who love to travel: I love the earth, I’m eco-friendly, I care about where I buy my eggs, but don’t think about the gazillion gallons of gas I consume going to the Philippines or to Australia for a week.

Anyway, if you can get past the issues on tone, you're half-way there. There is good stuff here to consider and talk about. Even starting the conversation is intentional, so you'd be on the right track. I'd read this book lightly and then dig in with folks you know and trust and look at changes that you want to make. It's worth the time too, if you're a Christian, to go through scripture with other Christians to consider whether they way you want to live aligns with serving others the way Jesus calls us to. 

This post is part of the Blue Bike Blog Tour. I do not know Tsh Oxenreider personally, nor am I being compensated for this review. To learn more and join the journey, head here.

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