Thursday, September 29, 2011

on the book stack

As you can see, the books are not in stacks today, but boxes.  We're moving tomorrow which also means that there are no library books here either.  Yes, it is a rather sad day.  However, I have reserved just one book to keep with me through all the packing.  I have been sneaking reads from it as often as I can and it now sits on my bedside table.

Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House.  I had a suspicion when I read page one last week that I would be hooked and it turned out to be true.  In this book, Cheryl Mendelson not only talks you through how to do everything you could ever need to do in order to keep your house well, she also examines the social and relational contexts that are so integral to the home, which are therefore integral to the concepts of keeping a home.  Being a philosophy professor, she will sometimes delve into the meaning of 'home' as well.  I thought that, once I got past the first chapter, the 837 (excluding notes) page book would be mostly charts and bullet points.  Nope.  Prose.  This book is totally packed from cover to cover and I love it.  Please allow me to share just a few quotes that will hopefully give you a flavor of the book.

There were also reasons outside my own home that gave impetus to the idea of a housekeeping book.  Over and over I found myself visiting homes where the predominant feeling was sepulchral, dusty, and deserted, or even hotel-like, as my own had once become.  Perhaps a book that tried to explain not only the hows but the whys and the meanings of housekeeping was something the world could use.

The sense of being at home is important to everyone's well-being ... When you are at home, you can let down your guard and take off your mask.  Home is the one place in the world where you are safe from feeling put down or out, unentitled, or unwanted. ... Coming home is your major restorative in life.

Her real secret was that she identified herself with her home. ... She lived her life not only through her own body but through the house as an extension of her body; part of her relation to those she loved was embodied in the physical medium of the home she made.

Above all, housekeeping must be intelligent so that it can be empathetic, for empathy is the form of intelligence that creates the feeling of home.

Good meals at home satisfy emotional hungers as real as hunger in the belly, and nothing else does so in the same way.  They promote affection and intimacy among those who share them.  Characteristic, familial styles of cooking and dining, foods that "taste like home," are central to each home's feelings of security and comfort and to its sense of itself as a unique and valuable place.  Cooking at home links your past and future and solidifies your sense of identity and place.  When a home gives up its hearth, which in the modern world is its kitchen, it gives up its focus.  (The word "focus" is Latin for "hearth.") And the people who live there lose theirs too.

I chose to share only some of her reflections on 'home' but there is much more that is practical in this book.  What order to wash dishes in, how to set a table, how to make coffee and so on.  Still, I haven't found it to be intimidating since she writes in such a way that is gracious to the many who never really learned how to keep house and she gives you plenty of space to learn by suggesting all of the things you could do and then highlighting the most important.

Her observations of society's affect on housekeeping - generation(s) of women feeling trapped at home, generation(s) of women often too preoccupied with work to learn to keep home, the idea that men don't keep home, advertising of modern conveniences - highlight the emotions and beliefs that are caught up in this seemingly simple task.  It is a breath of fresh air to acknowledge the depth to which we feel about our homes and how important they still are to our lives.  I believe that she truly writes to everyone who wishes to make a home for themselves and those they love, regardless of gender or age.  So far in my reading (just past 100 pages), I have been enlightened, challenged, and above all, inspired.

This is perhaps the best time to be thinking on these ideas for me, since I will be setting up a new home in just a few days.  Many things will stay the same as they have been, but hopefully some things will be improved and a few better habits formed.  But at the end of the day, my house will always feel like a home so long as it is filled with love.