I’ve been reading a lot of books about alternative and sustainable living lately. Doug Fine’s Farewell, My Subaru is far and away the funniest I’ve read yet. He’s got Bill Bryson’s sense of humor and Annie Dillard’s flair for description, and describes a genuine effort to reduce his carbon footprint by growing his own food, making his own fuel, and installing solar panels to power his home.
Fine freely confesses that he lacks most of the skills necessary for these endeavors, so what he describes is a series of misadventures and hard-learned lessons, but he keeps his sense of humor and desire to do better. It’s a book for those of us who want to change our lives but are beginners when it comes to technology like solar powered water heaters, or animal husbandry along the lines of raising goats (picture having a pair of new puppies, but puppies drawn to headbutting and eating rose bushes and capable of jumping over any fence). He peppers the story with a number of political jabs and some of the highlights of his romantic life during his sustainability adventure – the book is funny and not at all G rated, more of a personal narrative than a how-to guide.
Among his efforts to live green? Abandoning his trusty old Subaru in favor of a vegetable oil powered ROAT (ridiculously oversized American truck) which backfires constantly and smells like Kung Pao Chicken. Using solar power to run his electricity and hot water. Making his own organic, local goat’s milk icecream. Starting a small flock of chickens, while trying to protect them from every predator in the American Southwest.
These are all good efforts, changes I hope to make in my own life (at least the chickens and the solar power. I’m not so sure about the ROAT!) But they’re not what makes the story worth reading. Stunt journalism pieces about spending a year living green/frugal/local abound, and Fine isn’t doing anything spectacularly innovative in terms of the way he incorporates sustainability into his day-to-day life. He’s doing the things that everyone can (and perhaps should) do, and sharing all of his mistakes and witty observations as he transitions to alternative, renewable energy sources and local foods. I didn’t learn many new ideas from the book, although it did deepen my desire to have dairy goats at some point:
What I got from Farewell, My Subaru was a really good laugh and a sense of solidarity with all the other people doing their best to live a little bit more green. Doug Fine is very, very funny, and genuine in his desire to change his life – and that’s what makes this book such a worthwhile read.