book review: Made by Hand

by Mark Frauenfelder

My favorite blog, as many of you know, is boingboing.net. It is also apparently the most popular blog on the internet. (When does a blog become just a website?) Anyway, one of the main contributors, Mark Frauenfelder, wrote Made by Hand: Searching for Meaning in a Throwaway World.

Years ago, I woke up in my apartment in Arlington and realized I was tired of shopping. Shopping meant consuming not producing. I wanted to produce. Since then I have tried to temper my shopping urges, with the typical varying degrees of success. Mark had a similar epiphany...but they ended up moving around the world to an island. They did not stay long. He did begin a voyage of self-discovery. DIY, do it yourself rather than HAP, hire an expert, became his MO, modus operandi. (tee hee)

"The truth is, the stuff we already own is loaded with features most of us haven’t learned to use." This idea really appeals to me: I have tons of stuff that I don’t fully utilize. One of the things I loved about my parents’ house was that they had everything you needed to do any project. You name the project: painting some bookshelves, have paint and paint brushes – check; loading shotgun shells: the machine to pack the gunpowder in – check. So, I miss those things. Mark convinced me that maybe I don’t need all of this stuff to start my projects.

I loved this definition of work:
"Work is of two kinds: first, altering the position of matter at or near the earth's surface relatively to another such matter; second, telling other people to do so." This reminds me of something my geology teacher in high school insisted we remember: "Everything we have is either grown or mined." You can try to argue your way out of these statements, but both are true.

A few times Mark veers off into marketing theory and history, and he lost me there. I read right over that stuff. Great: cigarettes are bad and the guy who figured out how to market them to women was genus. I get it. Tell me more about your chickens...or how to make a guitar out of a cigar box. Stop with the lecture.

After reading his section on bees I am hopeful that I can get my brother and sister-in-law to get a beehive. I am deathly afraid of bees, but I bet they can handle it. And, I would love to unschool my kids. Mark does not do this, but he does try to tutor his daughter in math. She might not have done well on the standardized test, but I still get the sense she got a lot more out of their time together than could be measured by a test. (Mark felt bad she did not do better on the test. I felt bad for him.)

This statement sums up the book really: "The purpose of DIY is learning to take back control of your life from outside parties..." So true. Get out there and make something...or at least read the book about it.


Frauenfelder said...

Thanks for the nice review!

Unknown said...

I just finished the book! Thanks for recommending it. I agree with most of what you said.
For me, it is strange to watch the whole "return to the nature" thing. Having chickens (maybe not bees), garden, making sauerkraut, pickles, jelly and tons of other stuff and repair everything by yourself is a pretty normal thing where I come from :-) The sad thing is, nobody gets so excited about this as Mark does.
I hope his chickens and bees are doing fine this year.