Judging a Book By Its Cover

By Cam Mather

Michelle and I are pretty pumped about our new book “Little House Off The Grid.” It was 14 years in the making. It looks at the ups and downs of moving from the city to the country and, in our case, off the grid. Since we took turns writing sections of it, you get both of our perspectives. Sometimes I can tend to share only the “rosy” picture of off-grid life, so Michelle is good at sharing the “reality.”

I know that when Michelle and I were considering our move to the country, we really enjoyed reading books about other people’s experiences. We learned from other people and I know anyone reading our book will learn from our experience.

The cover is an interesting story. Whenever we publish a book here at Aztext Press, the design of the cover is my job. I don’t pretend to be a graphic designer and so the covers aren’t always the greatest, but I try to get the message across about what the book is about. And hey, “The Renewable Energy Handbook” is 500 pages of the best renewable energy information in North America, which is what really matters.

I had some ideas for the cover of Little House Off the Grid. This time we decided to get some feedback about some cover ideas from our friends. Magazines are doing this now – Michelle receives emails from some of her favourite magazines requesting her input on upcoming cover designs. So we designed about 6 or 7 covers and Michelle sent them out to a bunch of our friends and family members. Here are some of the covers we came up with;

I really liked the idea of trying to use the American Gothic theme. Most people are familiar with this picture of the stern faced farmer and his wife standing in front of their house. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Gothic So Michelle and I set out to recreate this. Of course there wasn’t any money in the budget for this, which is the case for most of what we do these days. I have an old black suit that doesn’t really fit me anymore, but I was able to squeeze into it for the purposes of the photo. I don’t own any overalls… but Michelle had an old pair that fit me. This is one of the few times I’ve dressed in women’s clothing, and I’m comfortable with that. Instead of holding a pitchfork, like in the original painting, I decided to hold a solar panel.

Michelle’s doesn’t have much of a dress collection, and certainly didn’t have any dresses with little white collars. But she did find a shirt she could use, and a black dress that she bought at Value Village for a wedding we went to a while back. She wore the dress backwards with the white shirt underneath with the collar sticking out. As you can imagine, it was pretty hard to look stern in the photos, given the crazy collection of clothing that both of us were wearing. We couldn’t stop laughing at each other.

It’s like when you get your photo taken for some “official” piece of identification, whether it’s your driver’s license or whatever. Here in the Province of Ontario, the government workers have been instructed to tell you “Don’t’ smile” when they are getting ready to snap your photo. Inevitably when I’m getting my photo taken, Michelle is there making faces at me. The people taking my photo have become annoyed with me because I can’t stop laughing. Does this mean I have a problem with authority or am I just immature? In the end, as long as they can snap a photo of me looking like a convict, they seem happy.

Another one of our cover ideas used a watercolour painting of our house, done by a local artist, Barry Lovegrove. I love this painting because, even though Barry painted it at a time when the roof was in rough shape and the paint was flaking, through the miracle of his paintbrush, he made that all go away and the house looks beautiful.

I also liked the cover with Michelle and me sitting on the front porch.

The final cover idea, and the one that was almost unanimously chosen by our panel of friends and family members, was the one with the photo of our house from above. My late neighbor Mike Kouri, who built and flew his own helicopter, took the photo. My other neighbor Ken built and flew an ultra light plane. At one time Michelle and I began to wonder if we really belonged in this neighbourhood where people build their own flying machines.

I didn’t argue with the decision of our panel. If this is what the people like, far be it from me to argue. I’m sure someone will say it “reeks of self-publishing,” but that’s okay. We are a very small publishing company. We don’t have the money to pay someone to come up with some airy-fairy fancy cover. This is our house from the air. It’s off grid. This is where we are working towards self-sufficiency. Take me as I am.

I really enjoyed working on this cover. I wish people had picked the American Gothic theme, but I’m happy with what we ended up with. Thanks to Deb, Ellen, Linda, Lorna, Nancy and Robert for their input.

And I’m really pleased with the book. Right now all of our systems – wind, solar, batteries and the solar domestic hot water system, are working really well. Living off the grid like this is awesome. This has not always been the case. It’s taken us years to get to this place. From phones to batteries to you name it, we’ve had to replace it or upgrade it or fix it and there have been some huge hassles over the time we’ve lived here. That’s why I can’t turn on a light, pick up the phone or turn on a tap without being in awe that it works, and works as well as it does. It’s the little things I am grateful for. And I know how they work, and I know how much energy my lifestyle requires to operate it and how much work it is to create that energy. And I know how much effort would go into growing all my food, and storing it, and so when I get home from the grocery store, or receive an order from the co-op that we belong to, I am infinitely grateful to live in such a time of plenty and choice.

I think living in the country, off the electricity grid, 4 kilometers from my nearest and most fantastic neighbors Ken and Alyce, is awesome. And I’m pretty sure this comes across in our humble retelling of our journey to get here.

The book can be ordered from our website at www.aztext.com, from Amazon (please use the Amazon Bookstore under “Books and DVDs”  so that we earn a small commission) or any other book retailer. It would make a wonderful gift! Right now, we are offering FREE shipping within Canada or the U.S.

3 Responses to “Judging a Book By Its Cover”

  • Our place is pretty much a blur on Google Earth……

  • Cathy:

    The house would have been a spec if you had the entire property, I think you’ve said it’s 150 acres somewhere. What does Google Earth look like?

  • I like the idea that you may be a little immature. To be too grown up makes life dull and no fun. I actually had the idea of doing the American Gothic theme for a thanksgiving card last year but never got to it. However my first choice for your cover was the painting. Then when I saw the picture of the whole homestead I thought that would be more appropriate because the reader can see the whole tamale right off. That would make me open the cover. Just so you know I have asked for that book for Christmas. Hopefully my guy takes the not so subtle hint.

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About Cam
Cam Mather and his wife Michelle live independently off the electricity grid using the sun and wind to power their home and their CSA. Cam is working towards the goal of making his home “zero-carbon” and with his extensive garden he aims to grow as much of his own food as possible. He is available to speak at conferences and other events and has motivated many people to integrate renewable energy into their lives, reduce their footprint on the planet and get started on the path to personal food, fuel and financial independence.
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