Monday, May 19, 2014

Book Review: Not Buying It by Judith Levine

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Not Buying It: My Year Without Shopping
by Judith Levine

This was one of the more enjoyable books I picked up at a recent library venture.  This is not a practical guide by any means.  It's a memoir, heavily introspective and tied up in politics, and it's fascinating from an anthropological standpoint even if you reject many of the "messages" of the book.

The gist of it is simple: Fed up with Christmas shopping, Judith Levine and her long-term partner Paul decide to embark on a quest of one year buying only the necessities.  She documents this quest in a sort of diary format, with each chapter representing one month.

What made this book particularly fascinating for me is that it takes place between 2003-2004, and is heavily enmeshed in the politics of that era.  Reading it today is a bit like conversing with a Dickensian ghost of the past.  Since so many anti-consumerist, pro-frugality books are reactive, existing in response to the recession, it was refreshing (albeit depressing) to see someone preaching that philosophy at a time when, culturally, we were by and large still convinced of the power of excess.

The writing itself I found to be engaging, although it's certainly not to everyone's tastes as evidenced by the not-very-charitable reviews on Amazon.  The "character" of our narrator/author is in turns fascinating and aggravating.  She's naive and snobby, but no moreso than any other New Yorker (sorry, guys), and she's making a genuine effort.  Although we share a common career, our lives and experiences couldn't be any different...which was, ultimately, the key to much of my enjoyment of this book.

Anyway, it's worth the read, but don't expect to pick up any valuable information from it.  This is not a how-to guide, and it's painfully bourgeois for anyone who is actually getting through life on a budget. 


  1. Thank you. I checked this book out from the library today based on your recommendation. I'm only a couple chapters in, but so far it's pretty good.

  2. I read this book a few years ago and really enjoyed it. I have gone back a few times since then to reread it. I found the writing to be engaging and the narrative to be very interesting. It really made me stop and think about what I buy, why I buy it, and do I really need it?