Book Review of “One Red Paperclip” by Kyle MacDonald.
Trading something seemingly worthless until you get something of real value might be a cheap trick, especially if it starts out with something as insignificant as a paperclip and ends up with a house. It may also seem like an impossible feat. However, that’s exactly what Kyle MacDonald did. On the one hand, those of us who struggled to buy our homes might feel MacDonald cheated to get what others sweat years to achieve. On the other hand, it takes gumption, nay, chutzpah to actually attempt this, let alone actually make it happen. Others will say MacDonald is lazy, and his admitted laziness factors highly here. He wanted a house, but he didn’t want to work years to earn enough to buy one. In fact, he didn’t even want a job, but he also didn’t want to sponge off his girlfriend. In the end, this wild exercise netted MacDonald a house. You can call him a trickster, a cheater or just lazy – but you have to hand it to MacDonald for his originality in achieving this dream.
As for originality, it dawned on me that MacDonald’s stunt simply took the kid’s game “Bigger and Better” and brought it into the realm of adulthood, the 21st century, and the Internet and cell phone era, taking an old concept and giving it a new spin. MacDonald’s story plays out through websites, emails, and his blog, for the world to see. With this book, MacDonald also chronicles his travels to reach the people he trades with, while cleverly arranging his trips to coincide with places he has to be anyway. This means that MacDonald doesn’t have to put out even a penny for any of his long-distance trades. Does that also make MacDonald a cheapskate? Well, he’s broke actually, so you get the picture.
All that’s well and good, but I was wondering if MacDonald didn’t “spoil” this game for everyone else. Certainly, anyone attempting to mirror MacDonald’s achievement has an equal chance at succeeding (although I doubt anyone will ever top MacDonald’s result). He took this idea from an urban legend of his youth, to become an internationally recognized phenomenon. His success undoubtedly depended on being unique, and many of his trades probably couldn’t be replicated today. Still, it started him on a path that has sustained him ever since, as you can see from his website. Considering the difficult economic times when these events occurred, this type of creativity deserves recognition.
More importantly, this is a book about 21st century and Internet culture. MacDonald debunks the notion that the World Wide Web is nothing more than an acceptable haven for sociopaths. By emphasizing the face-to-face trades, and the fun MacDonald has making new ‘real life’ friends, he encourages others to interact with the flesh-and-blood people behind the monitors. My only problem with this is that perhaps there should be a warning somewhere for younger readers, knowing that meeting virtual people in the flesh could be dangerous. This didn’t even occur to MacDonald, but it did cross my mind. Still, MacDonald is an adult, so I guess that wasn’t as much of an issue – at least not at the time. Getting up the courage to try something unconventional to make your dream come true is a universal lesson that MacDonald’s book can teach anyone.
I must add that this book has a certain charm with oodles of humor, and a voice that is unique and real. Despite some over usage of words like “cool” and “awesome,” I was enchanted from the get-go. Even though I read slowly, I found I just couldn’t put this down, and read it all in one evening, laughing and guffawing from start to finish. MacDonald’s writing style is, for want of a better phrase ‘user friendly’ and extremely entertaining. In short, Kyle MacDonald takes us on his journey of bartering things you don’t want until you’re left with the one thing you do want, in a 21st century version of the game “Bigger and Better.” His success is astonishing, and his story will make you “LOL” with all the ‘awesome’ and ‘cool’ things and people along the way. For all that, I’ll give it four out of five stars.
“One Red Paperclip” by Kyle MacDonald, published by Three Rivers Press in 2007 is available (through these affiliate links) from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo Books (USA, Canada & Australia), The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery), new or used from Alibris or Better World Books as well as from an IndieBound store near you. This is a version of my original review, which appeared on BookBag.com, as well as on the now defunct consumer review site DooYoo under my username “TheChocolateLady.”