United States of Americana, by by Kurt B Reighley

Buy from Amazon.ca, Amazon.com, or IndieBound

Author’s website
Publication date – August 31, 2010

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) Young Americans are returning to the roots of a simpler culture

Americana. It’s more than mere nostalgia; it’s a conscious celebration of community and sustainability. It’s a movement born in response to the ever-accelerating pace of modern life and Internet technology overload. All over the country, people are returning to an appreciation for the simpler things in life, which are brilliantly surveyed in United States of Americana—the first comprehensive handbook to all things Americana.

Music: Renewed interest in the legends of country, blues, gospel, and folk (Johnny Cash, Emmylou Harris, Hank Williams, and Leadbelly); the rise and evolution of alt-country music and the Americana genre (Fleet Foxes, Wilco, the Decemberists, and T Bone Burnett)

Fashion: Wearing American heritage clothing and footwear (Red Wing boots, Filson jackets, Carhartt overalls, and Pendleton wool shirts)

Grooming: Returning to straight-razor shaving and old-fashioned barber shops

D.I.Y.: Taking up handmade crafts (knitting, needlepoint, and soap making), as well as home canning (pickling and preserving)

The speakeasy renaissance: Drinking Prohibition- and pre-Prohibition-era cocktails (old-fashioned, gin fizz, and sidecar)

Entertainment: Seeking out burlesque, circuses, and the vinyl LP

Thoughts: Ultimately, I can’t deny that this was a very interesting concept for a book, especially with North American’s current mindset and economic factors. More people every day are turning to green alternatives, and looking back on how things used to be done before we became a throwaway society. The author clearly did a large amount of research before putting pen to paper, so to speak, and for that, I commend him.

It was, however, not what I was hoping for in a book. While some parts were definitely interesting, with a focus on the history behind things and an aspect of DIY, long portions of it were devoted to nothing more than profiles of companies that have weathered the blast and are still going strong after 100 years or more. Which is fine… if you don’t mind reading chapter after chapter of company profiles. I would have rather seen a few more profiles of up-and-comers, people or small companies who were really getting into the DIY spirit and making their own clothes, perhaps, instead of relying on other people to do it for them. Reighley acknowledges that DIY is an essential part of the movement, but ignores a golden opportunity to showcase that.

Certainly, “buy American” is part of the culture as well, but if you actually get down to the grass roots, you’ll see a great number of people who are more interested in doing for themselves instead of letting others do for them. It’s a fine line to walk, but I wish Reighley had looked a little deeper into that instead of presenting a few food vendors and letting that be the end of it.

That being said, I did learn quite a bit, not just from the various and sundry pieces of trivial commentary that Reighley throws in but also from the sections not devoted to CEO interviews and product reviews. Though I’m not much of a drinker, the section on alcohol fascinated me, and taught me things I didn’t even know I didn’t know. There were good tips on preserving food, too.

I particularly like that he admitted that Canada exists, even if it was only as a minor footnote. Let’s face it, Canada’s got as many DIY back-to-earth sustainability as America does, but many people ignore that and act as though America’s the only one that can, and thus does, bother with it. Which is just untrue. Even if it’s just a footnote, I’m glad that Reighley acknowledged that “North Americana” might actually be a better term to use for some things.

An interesting book, but ultimately one that I’m glad I got to read for free on the HarperCollins website. If I’d shelled out money for this one, I think I’d have come away somewhat disappointed.

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