In his recent movie review of the documentary film No Impact Man, available in book form from NYPL here and in blog form here, A.O. Scott writes, "The year of doing something crazy to learn a lesson or prove a point is by now less a gimmick than a full-fledged publishing genre. Activities that would, in the course of ordinary life, count as modest or private undertakings acquire a special significance when they become the basis of book proposals. A. J. Jacobs followed numerous biblical commandments (there are a lot more than 10) [The Year of Living Biblically]; Morgan Spurlock ate nothing but fast food [Supersize Me]; Julie Powell cooked her way through Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. [Julie and Julia: my year of cooking dangerously]
And Mr. Beavan, in a similarly self-displaying if more austere spirit, weaned himself, Ms. Conlin and their young daughter from motorized transportation, nonlocal food and light bulbs."
There are certainly many films and books that have this theme, and I wanted to highlight a few others:
Ultramarathon Man: confessions of an all-night runner by Dean Karnazes
The Urban Hermit: a memoir by Sam Macdonald In an attempt to get out of debt and to lose weight, Macdonald embarks on a year long experiment of living on lentils and little else.
A Year Without 'Made in China': One Family's True Life Adventure in the Global Economy by Sara Bongiorni. A mother and journalist, Bongiorni is shocked one day by how dependent her family has become on items made in China. She makes (and occasionally breaks) rules for her family to try to break this dependence, not so much as a boycott, but more to try to give other countries a chance, sometimes with humorous results. Watch a short video about this book: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=56rPPYMVJMM
Give It Up!: My Year of Learning to Live Better with Less by Mary Carlomagno. Each chapter is dedicated to something different that she tries to live without.
Not Buying It: My Year Without Shopping by Judith Levine
Levine tries to give up shopping, except for "necessities". Like Bongiorni, she starts out with a set of rules for her family, which are sometimes broken.