The Hippie Handbook

by Chelsea Cain

illustrations by Lia Miternique

Published by Chronicle Books

176 pages, 2004




Living Reference for the Birkenstock Set

Reviewed by Lincoln Cho


The big trend this year is in Miss Manners' style books on etiquette. New versions of the which-fork-to-use-type etiquette books that haven't truly been popular since the 1950s are currently pouring out of publisher's warehouses. Even purse designer and post-Martha style maven Kate Spade has one out. With this bit of knowledge safely tucked away, when The Hippie Handbook came skidding across my desk it looked like irony. And the faux tie-dyed cover art looked happy. The combination proved irresistible: I was swept back to a more peaceful time quicker than it would take you to take care of your Birkenstocks.

And, while on the topic, if Birkenstock care is a burning issue for you, The Hippie Handbook has the answer. And there's more than Birkenstock care here. Author Chelsea Cain runs us cheerily through the basics of the hippie lifestyle and beyond: hippie fashion hints (I paraphrase, but whatever), how to anthropomorphize inanimate objects, how to macramé, care for a fern, amble, hitchhike and drive like a hippie. ("Always travel at least five miles under the posted speed limit. Tailgate.") Plus a lot more.

Cain knows her material. She has, in fact, lived it. In a sidebar to the section called How to Name Your Hippie Baby, the author tells us about her intimate knowledge of this particular topic:

My parents waited until I was six weeks old to name me. They were actually waiting until I "named myself," and it seems I must have taken a while to decide. ... "How can we name her?" my father asked. "We don't even know her." Finally, one day my mother was nursing me while listening to Judy Collins sing "Chelsea Morning" and I gurgled. They called me Chelsea Snow: "Chelsea" because I liked the song, and "Snow" because I was born during a blizzard.

In her introduction, Cain tells us about being raised on an Iowa commune where she "played music on the porch for fun and I got to wear whatever I wanted and run free in the cornfields and help the adults plan The Dream at night."

Though one imagines the children of hippies as rebelling madly by becoming staunch pillars of the establishment with neatly trimmed hair and gas guzzling cars, Cain regards her roots with affection. The book, while often tongue-in-cheek, truly is a compendium of homespun skills. And while you might not have a burning need to make tempeh in a bathtub or concoct "Oregano" Brownies (The author's emphasis on "Oregano." Not mine.) play "Kumbaya" on the guitar, cook millet casserole, milk a goat or change the oil in your VW bus, if you did need to know, you'd also know where to go.

The solid advice included in The Hippie Handbook is no accident. It's not meant to be mere empty fun -- though lots of books get published with less reason to be. "How many neo-hippies," writes Cain, "have gone to a Phish show only to embarrass themselves with their poorly executed tie-dyed apparel? How many young-hippies-turned-old-hippies no longer remember the nuances of composting?" To these and many other questions, Cain brings the answers.

Nor is any of this mere empty posturing. "I imagine a world," Cain writes at one point, "in which all people have the ability to make sand candles." Go ahead: imagine it. She's right, you know. That world would be a more peaceful place. Brighter, too. And there'd always be enough millet casserole to go around. | August 2004


Lincoln Cho is a freelance writer and contributing editor to Blue Coupe magazine.