3 unexpected books about homemaking

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It being Library Week, let’s chat about depictions of home in literature.

For books strictly about the home, the hands-down best book I’ve read is Bill Bryson’s At Home: A Short History of Private Life.

Bryson explores how the concept of home came to be — as in, how people invented houses. And how further inventions, like electric lighting, changed culture monumentally. It’s brilliant and insightful non-fiction and you won’t believe you overlooked a central part of life for so long — where we live.

One of my all-time favorite books is The Death of Vishnu by Manil Suri. It’s a richly descriptive novel, but I specifically love that Vishnu goes into detail about several Indian households, and the main character’s childhood homes. It’s a very different look at life; families in an apartment building share a kitchen and squabble over stolen ghee, and as a group they hire the main character to be a servant to the building. It’s a perfect book for a bit of escapism.

Any book by Ray Bradbury is worth reading, but many give lovely, nostalgic descriptions of home. The Martian Chronicles calls up imaginative Martian homes as well as classic Americana and small town life. Dandelion Wine is an autobiographical description of Bradbury’s own childhood hometown. Bradbury’s pegged pretty solidly as a scifi writer, but you don’t have to be into science fiction to find something to love in his books.

All right, what else is out there? What books do you think of when you consider the idea of a home?

Comments on 3 unexpected books about homemaking

    • YES YAY! I don’t remember how I even found it, but it seems like no one else has read it. I’ve had the audio book for the sequel for a year now — still haven’t listened.

    • “I write this sitting in the kitchen sink” – surely one of the best opening lines ever!! HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE and I CAPTURE THE CASTLE are two of my favorite books 🙂

      (Are you by chance a fellow YA reader?!)

      • Yes I am! Not exclusively…It’s more that I read good funny fantasy no matter where they put it in the library. Most of it happens to be in the YA section.

          • Oops, yes, sorry! My momentary geekout eclipsed my memory of the no-acronym policy…

          • Ha! I just had to know! You know what? My mom is a children’s librarian and she always has the BEST book recommendations. I might have to hook up with Offbeat Mama on this.

  1. This might sound weird and dated : Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. I was pretty young when I read it and I was fascinated by the description of 19th century life in New England. Everyone has fireplaces! Which needed poking! And horses! You carry potatoes to keep you warm as you walk to school! What is a garret?? A playroom on top of your house?? Gimme one of those too!

    And the clothes! How many skirts can you wear before you fall over? Why can’t you wash your gloves?? ( I didn’t know “kid gloves” were leather.) What’s the difference between poplin and broadcloth?

    I’m quite nostalgic about that book because I know I can’t enjoy it now the way I did then. When I read it now, I focus on how restrictive a woman’s life was then and not on how she might have used calling cards.

  2. I recently re-read Broken for You by Stephanie Kallos. It’s mostly about how an unusual and unrelated group of people form a family, but the house they all come to live in together plays such a central role. It’s set in a Victorian manse in Seattle and the place sounds just incredible! The theme of “orphans” of all kinds creating a family unit on their own terms really melted my heart.

    • OMG! Someone else has read Wise Child! I loved that book when I read it in middle school and never could remember the author or find it again.

      As for Laura Ingalls Wilder? Farmer Boy was always my favorite. Chock-full of food and farming and family togetherness. Love that book.

    • yes! Little House in the Big Woods!

      I just finished re-reading this as an adult. I completely missed how much work it took for the Ingalls family to just live when I first read this book as a kid.

      And of course Bryson’s At Home is a fascinating read (though could have used a bit more editing) like all of his other books. Kind of off topic, but what particularly interested me about that book was the discussion of social justice, or lack thereof, during the Victorian age.

  3. THE POETICS OF SPACE by Gaston Bachelard. I found this book while studying set design in college, and it is one of the most magical, beautiful meditations on the intimacy of places, especially the home, and how our perceptions of them shape our thoughts and dreams.

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