19 December 2004

From the bookshelf: Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House by Cheryl Mendelson

Non-fiction. Hardcover from Scribner. Published in 1999. Purchased from Amazon.com.

I suppose it might not be very cool to think this book is neat. But, I really do. The first time I became aware of it was at the Cascade Library (in Grand Rapids). After checking it out and renewing it, I decided it was worth buying. I was fascinated by the chapter on wine glasses - who knew there were different types of glasses for different types of wine? Not me. (Maybe this is common knowledge to some, but I was raised in a household that did not drink alcohol.) I also like the idea of having two different types of kitchen towels. One kind being designated for just dishes, the other for just hands. There is even a chapter on how to repair books! Ideas and information about running a household abound on every page. This is helpful to me because I spend most of my time attempting to keep our household functioning at a reasonable level.

Publisher's summary:
Home Comforts is something new. For the first time in nearly a century, a sole author has written a comprehensive book about housekeeping. This is not a dry how-to manual, nor a collection of odd tips and hints, a cleaning book, a history book, or an arid encyclopedia compiled by a committee or an institute. Home Comforts is a readable explanation for both beginners and experts of all the domestic arts -- choosing fabrics, keeping the piano in tune, caring for books, making a good fire in the fireplace and avoiding chimney fires, ironing and folding, setting up a good reading light, keeping surfaces free of food pathogens, and everything else that modern people might want to do for themselves in their homes. But this reliable and thorough book on the practicalities of housekeeping is also an argument for the importance of private life and the comforts offered by housekeeping.

Cheryl Mendelson is a philosopher, lawyer, sometime professor, and a homemaker, wife, and mother. Home Comforts is based on her domestic education, which she acquired while growing up on a farm in the hills of Greene County, in southwestern Pennsylvania, from her grandmothers, aunts, and mother. Learning from the distinct domestic styles of her native Appalachian relatives and her Italian immigrant relatives, she appreciated early on how important domestic customs are to a sense of comfort and identity in life. She writes out of love and respect for her subject, and hopes to inspire others to develop the affection and respect for home life and housework she was fortunate to have learned.

Mendelson addresses the meanings as well as the methods of housekeeping with a keen sense of the history and values involved. The result is a warm, good-humored, engagingly written book with a message and a point of view, one that is overflowing with useful reflections and information. The clarity, breadth, and depth of the information collected here are unparalleled. You can read Home Comforts for thoughtful entertainment or use its ample index to help you find the answers to practical domestic questions. There is nothing quite like it.

To buy from amazon.co.uk, click here: Home Comforts: the Art and Science of Keeping House
from amazon.com, click here: Home Comforts : The Art and Science of Keeping House

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