Friday, December 31, 2010

How Do You Measure a Year?

When the fauxhemians in Rent asked that question in the 1990s, they offered a list of ways that we could measure a year. These ways included measuring it in daylights, sunsets, midnights, cups of coffee, and (of course) love. In addition to these rather whimsical methods, the past few years have given us another way: measuring a year in terms of doing something slightly off-beat. 

An entire subgenre of books have emerged from this idea. Last year, The Writing Spider blog spotlighted this trend, citing A.J. Jacobs's The Know-It-All and The Year of Living Biblically and Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love as examples. The writer jokingly suggests a number of ideas that she can do in order to become famous by following in the questionable footsteps of people like Julie Powell.

I've read a number of these types of books, and I must admit that I'm torn about the entire idea. On one hand, I appreciate that these people have dedicated a year of their lives to doing something on a regular basis. On the other hand, these types of books have become so ubiquitous that I can't help but be cynical about the authors' motivations. Rather than trying to find themselves or learning more about the world around them, it can be easy to attribute their dedication to their desire for fame or money (or both).

What is your take on these types of books? Have you read any that you have found enjoyable?