Book Review: Give It Up! My Year of Learning to Live Better with Less

After reading Not Buying It, I took Amazon’s suggestion to read Give It Up!, too. I didn’t have high hopes for it, though, based on the many negative reviews on the site. Had I not been reading the book in preparation for this project, I would have returned it to the library after finishing the first chapter. For you, my dear audience, I read it all.

Give It UpIn Give It Up!, author Mary Carlomagno decides to eliminate “unnecessary facets of life” by doing a year-long über Lent. Each month she gives up one thing she enjoys or can’t do without. The idea is that, by giving these things up, it will force her to evaluate her dependence on them or otherwise transform her outlook on life.

A lofty goal and a worthy project, but this book suffers from a major flaw: the author is annoying.

That’s an unfair value judgment based on nothing but my own opinion. But, as she is presented to me in this book, I feel it’s a apt assessment. Firstly, Carlomango is an incredibly privileged person (that sounds familiar…), thus, her struggle to give up things like alcohol every night and taxis every day doesn’t resonate with me. And she never acknowledges that this might be the case. Her world might as well be the whole world as far as this book goes.

As I said, the first chapter nearly did me in. January was no alcohol month and Mary’s first step was to reschedule her many appointments labeled as “Drinks With…” in her date book. Apparently no one will talk to this woman over coffee, only over martinis. That’s a red flag right there. She cancels a dinner date with her brother because there’s “no point” in eating food at this very fine restaurant if she can’t have wine. She also discovers that it’s a lot easier to wake up in the morning when she’s not hung over (no, really?) and how catty and annoying her girlfriends are when they’ve had a bit to drink. Her strange cravings for alcohol after Yoga class plus her inability to go 10 minutes without being tempted plus her feeling that she could not have “fun” while drinking club soda all smacked of a serious problem to me. One not easily solved and one that I’m not sure many people have.

Other appalling chapters included August’s ban on taxis in which our heroine discovers that she needs “sensible shoes” in order to survive the horror of mass transit with her toes intact. It also reveals that she regularly (read: at least twice weekly) takes $50 cab rides home because she can’t be bothered to take the train (or is too drunk to). She admits to not knowing where things are in the city in which she works because she never walks but hails a cab instead. An expensive habit at roughly $300 per month.

Some months she chooses genuinely interesting things to give up: elevators, cell phones, television, multi-tasking. Her observations on how people rely on cell phones instead of making definite plans is particularly eye-opening for me since I’ve been trying to bully a friend into joining the 21st century by getting one. The multi-tasking chapter made me mindful of how often I am unfocused because I’m trying to do too many things at once and to work on correcting the habit. So the book isn’t a total loss. The author still manages to be annoying, though.

A book like this – written from one POV about the struggles of one person – hinges so much on who that person is and how well they can speak to the reader. No one can be all things to all people; no book can, either. However, the author’s personality and predilections don’t seem to resonate with most kinds of people. At least, not the way they’re presented here.

My conclusion: another library book. As I said, some of the chapters were eye-opening. If you can separate the wheat from the chaff without tossing the book away in disgust you may come away with food for thought.

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