Thursday, July 13, 2006

Recommended Reading for Suburban Homesteaders

Any of you remember The Suburban Homestead? It was Vroman's late (and I hope lamented) email newsletter devoted to cooking, gardening, home improvement, "lifestyle," etc. It ceased publication last fall, and since then I've been looking for an outlet to review books of that nature. The blog seems like a good spot to highlight them, so without further ado, two new books for all you Homesteaders out there:

Sheetrock & Shellac: A Thinking Person's Guide to the Art & Science of Home Improvement by David Owen will please any home improvement-minded individual. Owen, who has written a couple of other enjoyable books about the joys of home ownership and remodeling, is a sort of Bill Bryson for the DIY crowd: this book --part memoir, part how-to, and part cultural history -- is both smart and funny. As he and his family not only improve their own Connecticut home but also begin construction on a new cabin a mere six miles away (and he has good reasons for building a second home so close to the first), Owen details the processes involved in caring for a very old building and erecting a brand new one. He goes into the history and science of Sheetrock, concrete, glass, insulation, and toilets; his writing is at all times enthusiastic and amusing. He writes self-deprecatingly yet with great satisfaction about his DIY projects and those he has left (or should have left) to the professionals: "The knowledge one gains in undertaking a major home-improvement project is inevitably the knowledge one ought to have had before attempting it in the first place." I finished this entertaining book with a happy sigh and momentarily thought of passing it on to a friend who would enjoy a good read -- then decided not to, because Owen's home improvement tips are so useful that I know I'll want to refer to this book when I start my next DIY project.

I just read the last page of Catherine Goldhammer's Still Life with Chickens: Starting Over in a House by the Sea this morning. This slim, charming book is Goldhammer's memoir of divorce, relocation, and reinvention. After her marriage ends, she finds herself "about three tax brackets poorer" and is forced to sell her much-loved house in a tony New England town (which she refers to as "Hearts-Are-Cold"). She falls in love with a run-down cottage in a nearby, far-less affluent village and there creates Dragonfly Farm with her twelve-year-old daughter. This "farm" consists of a dog, a cat, six chickens, and a few vegetables and flowers; the flora prove tougher to keep alive than the fauna. Goldhammer's writing is witty and precise; a poet, she has a fine eye for detail and a memorable way with description. Still Life with Chickens is a delightful, quick read with a bit of everything your average suburban homesteader finds enjoyable: home improvement, raising livestock, gardening, and lots of mini-disasters.


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