“The main thrust of my work is not simple living, not yurt design, not social change, although each of these is important and receives large blocks of my time. But they are not central. My central concern is encouragement – encouraging people to seek, experiment, to plan, to create, and to dream. If enough people do this we will find a better way.”
This is a quote from Bill Coperthwaite, whose book A Handmade Life: In Search of Simplicity I have just recently finished reading. The book is, for lack of a more creative word, an interesting one, sprinkled full of a life’s worth of knowledge and insights, yet strangely lacking in what I thought would be the obvious subject — living a handmade lifestyle. The book is both idiosyncratic and universal, simple yet dense, and encouraging yet only pointing in a general direction.
A Handmade Life: Book Review
Bill Coperthwaite, who recently passed away in late 2013 (R.I.P.), is/was something of a modern role model akin to Helen and Scott Nearing, Henry David Thoreau, and a host of other individuals who have sought out a more satisfying life outside of the conventions of so-called modern society. The simple life, though that too is something of a misnomer itself.
A Handmade Life is more of a broad philosophy than a personal account of one man’s journey to simplicity. The bulk of the book deals with what Coperthwaite rightly calls a “design problem” — the need to build a better society, to raise the well-being of all (and not a select few), and to create a healthy and less destructive culture. Coperthwaite’s passions become clear rather quickly: educating youth and cultivating creativity, nonviolence, simplicity in design, and creating a vibrant life for all people of the world.
Throughout the book, Coperthwaite repeatedly returns to several themes to make a case for that much-desired better world. Having read any number of books directly or indirectly related to the subject, much of it was more of a reinforcement for me personally, but there were several new ideas I had not fully considered before. Plainly stated, the ideas are powerful and likely to be a challenge for many.
Several standalone stories and excerpts from Coperthwaite’s personal life and experiences are littered throughout the book, which I thought were some of the most stand-out portions of the book itself. Short tales of his travels across Alaska, encountering beautiful crafts, and attempts to communicate with folks of different cultures were illuminating and entertaining. Perhaps it is indicative of what I am craving at this particular point in time — personal stories from people who have “been there” and who are living or have lived the life I myself seek.
Having had the opportunity to hear Coperthwaite speak several years ago, I appreciate this book for expanding on some of the same things I heard him talk about at that time. His musings on design have really struck a chord with me, for one. The book’s photos by Peter Forbes are quite beautiful and definitely help illustrate the “handmade life” aesthetic, and the ample quotes from other writers help establish a sense of thematic continuity. Though I personally would have liked the first-hand accounts and stories to have taken a more central role, this book will no doubt serve as a rock in the foundation for many who are similarly seeking a wholesome, simple life in a healthier and thriving society.
Coperthwaite says it well when he states “wisdom is too precious not too be gleaned wherever it can be found”. True words, and good advice for approaching this book itself.
A Handmade Life: In Search of Simplicity on Chelsea Green.
Year Added to Catalog: 2007
Book Format: Paperback
Book Art: 67 color photographs by Peter Forbes, b&w illustrations
Number of Pages: 9 x 9, 144 pages
Book Publisher: Chelsea Green Publishing