WE ASKED EIGHT EXPERTS TO COMMENT ON THE BEST RECENT BOOKS ON THE HOME.
Witold Rybczynski, professor of urbanism at the University of Pennsylvania and author of The Most Beautiful House in the World (Viking, 1990).
"There are many books about houseshow to design them, build them, decorate thembut home is an elusive subject. In Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir (Norton, 1996), D.J. Waldie describes how, as a young boy in 1946, he moved with his family to Lakewood, California, one of the countrys first large planned suburban communities. He writes evocatively of the experience of growing up and living in a place where everything was standardized, homogeneous, and brand-new. If that sounds depressing, it isntits the way most Americans choose to live. Ordinary sights were also the chosen subject of the late John Brinckerhoff Jackson. A posthumous anthology, Landscape in Sight: Looking at America (Yale, 1997), contains several wonderful essays in what is best described as domestic anthropology, including a paean to mobile homes and an investigation of the humble garage. Vintage Jackson."
Rochelle Gurstein, professor of history at the Bard Graduate Center and author of The Repeal of Reticence: Americas Cultural and Legal Struggles Over Free Speech, Obscenity, Sexual Liberation, and Modern Art (Hill and Wang, 1996).
"The best chronicle of the home and domestic life in antebellum Americaand of its municipal buildings, churches, museums, theaters, cities, and townsis still Frances Trollopes 1832 Domestic Manners of the Americans (Brandywine Press, 1993), edited by John Lauritz Larson. Trollopes unsparing account of her life with people she found utterly lacking in charm and refinement and of rooms devoid of nearly all the accommodation that Europeans conceive necessary to decency and comfort was an immediate success in England, while it was denounced in America and its author burned in effigy. In addition to her vivid descriptions of the New World, Trollopes analysis of the ill effects of the separation of the sexesthe growing feminization and trivialization of Protestantism as well as the impoverished state of conversation, wherein men spoke only about politics or business while women gossiped about fashion or recipesremains an essential resource for those trying to understand the culture of domesticity and evangelical Protestantism."
Monica F. Cohen, an independent scholar based in New York City and author of Professional Domesticity in the Victorian Novel: Women, Work and Home (Cambridge, 1998).
"Arlie Russell Hochschild has explored the conflict-ridden merging of home and work in late-twentieth-century American culture. In The Time Bind: When Work Becomes Home and Home Becomes Work (Metropolitan, 1997), this accomplished sociologist investigates a Fortune 500 company lauded for its family-friendly policies. When scrutinized, however, it would seem that families working for this company spend little time together: They eat dinner to the shriek of arriving faxes and the hum of home computers registering e-mail missives, as the time between dinner and bedtime turns into an anxious struggle to manufacture even a semblance of domesticity. Hochschilds thesisthat working parents live in perpetual time debt, owing their children time for which there is no substitute and no compensationprovides a critical framework for a myriad of nuanced personal stories about smart, caring, and committed parents facing difficult circumstances."
Dolores Hayden, professor of architecture, urbanism, and American Studies at Yale University and author of Redesigning the American Dream: The Future of Housing, Work, and Family Life (Norton, 1984).
"Vernacular dwellings hold our most personal, intimate memories, as well as the larger traces of the history of social life. In Home: American Writers Remember Rooms of Their Own, edited by Sharon Sloan Fiffer and Steve Fiffer (Pantheon, 1995), Jane Smiley, Gish Jen, and Esmerelda Santiago explore the bathroom, garage, and closet, while Bailey White tackles the garden and Alex Kotlowitz the boys bedroom. There are eighteen minimemoirs in all, forming a composite house and building a delightful book for general readers as well as an evocation of spatial meanings for architects designing new housing. In a similar vein, D.J. Waldies Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir, illustrated with William Garnetts aerial photographs of Lakewood, California, in the 1950s, evokes the largest suburb of its time, spanning its personal meanings for a boy growing up and its public meanings for a man who is now a town official, still living in the same tract house."
John Emmeus Davis, a national community-development consultant based in Burlington, Vermont, and editor of The Affordable City: Towards a Third Sector Housing Policy (Temple, 1994).
"Home happens in a particular place: within the housing that contains it, within a community that surrounds it. Home is more than its container or surroundings, of course, but the inadequacy of either can make home a precarious entity. Michael Stone, in Shelter Poverty: New Ideas on Housing Affordability (Temple, 1993), examines redlining and other problems with the housing-finance system in America and proposes a host of progressive, permanent solutions. A comprehensive introduction to the multidisciplined world of housing studies is provided through the five hundred AZ entries of The Encyclopedia of Housing, edited by Willem van Vliet (Sage, 1998). Improving housing is only one aspect of rebuilding community, however, a lesson brought home by Peter Medoff and Holly Sklar in Streets of Hope: The Fall and Rise of an Urban Neighborhood (South End Press, 1994)."
Gwendolyn Wright, professor of architecture and history at Columbia University and author of Moralism and the Model Home: Domestic Architecture and Cultural Conflict in Chicago, 18731913 (Chicago, 1980).
"Scholars have recently begun to balance their indictments of domestic drudgery with an exploration of how many people manage to create a positive environment in their homes. This subtlety characterizes the new English translation of the second volume of Michel de Certeaus The Practice of Everyday Life. With Living and Cooking (Minnesota, 1998), de Certeaus panegyric to everyday human actions has been relocated to the familiar terrain of the home and the residential neighborhood. De Certeau eloquently portrays the conversion of the routine and repetitive acts of domestic life into experiences of creativity and pleasure. A similar combination of critique and appreciation characterizes Dell Uptons compact overview, Architecture in the United States (Oxford, 1998), another ode to creativity in ordinary lives as well as in high art, which opens with a chapter on Americans complex obsession with homestheir own and everyone elsesranging from our fetish for efficient kitchen cabinets to our longing for distinctive house façades."
Ruth Brent, professor of environmental design at the University of Missouri-Columbia and co-editor of Popular American Housing: A Reference Guide (Greenwood, 1995).
"The notorious mismatch between many older people and their housing, which too often is designed on a medical model and not a residential one, should inspire us to seek a better theoretical understanding of aging and environment. The majority of theories that guide housing research, however, were devised twenty-five years ago. Despite increasing demand due to more people living longer, the housing plight continues. Rick J. Scheidt and Paul G. Windleys Environment and Aging Theory: A Focus on Housing (Greenwood, 1998), addresses this issue, featuring seven prominent gerontological housing authors who help us see the contemporary and dynamic connection between aging and the places older adults call home. Stephen Golant, for instance, penetrates the changing nature of an older persons shelter and care setting, and Robert Rubinstein provides a new perspective on the phenomenology of housing for older people."
Patricia R. Zimmermann, professor of cinema and photography at Ithaca College and author of Reel Families: A Social History of Amateur Films (Indiana, 1995).
"Home is where old and new technologies mingle. For the last century, amateur film and video-making shaped imaginary representations of home. Lynn Hershman Leesons anthology Clicking In: Hot Links to a Digital Culture (Bay Press, 1996), provocatively unpacks how digitalitythe Internet, CD-ROM, medical imaging, and multimedia, among othershas turned the home into a pit stop for global interconnectivity in a way that amateur movies never could. Cracking open the unmapped electronic frontier, the essays in Clicking In, from the likes of feminist Sadie Plant and superhacker R.U. Sirius, render the corporate fantasies of Clintons information superhighway dull and obsolete. Performance artist Guillermo Gómez-Peña proposes brownifying and spanglishizing the white, English-only Net, while theorists Arthur and Marilouise Kroker warn that computers bunker us in and dumb us downat home."
Are there any great books you think we missed? Let us know.