3 Great (Fun) Books for Old House Renovators

Mary Butler

On August 24, the Oregonian reviewed a new children's book aimed at families who know a thing or two about living in a construction zone. Creaky Old House: A Topsy-Turvy Tale of a Real Fixer-Upper is for ages 4 and older, but I have to say I was intrigued by the title and identified with the blurb, which begins, "The family loves their creaky old home just the way it is--until the front doorknob falls off."

That's exactly what happened to me and my husband when we bought our first home, a 1912 Craftsman bungalow in Tacoma, Wash. Just like cooking aficionados enjoy memoirs about cooking as much as they enjoy new cookbooks, old house renovators on occasion like to partake in literary commiseration, in between reading how-to guides.

Here are a few books that may entertain, enlighten, and perhaps inspire you, too:

Adventures With Old Houses, by international financier Richard Jenrette and photographer John Hall. You can live vicariously through the author, described by friends as a house-aholic, who at the time of the book's publication in 2005 owned six historic properties, most of them dating back to the early 19th century. Over the previous 30 years, he'd restored eight other homes, as well as an antebellum hotel. The book details Jenrette's "personal account of the quest, the acquisition, the restoration and the furnishing of each property."

The Home Repair Is Homicide Series by renovator-author Sarah Graves includes titles, Tool & Die, Unhinged, and The Book of Old Houses, among others. The Miami Herald described her work as "Mixing slaughter with screwdrivers." Similarly Kirkus Reviews said her work is "Packed equally with incidents and tips on household repair."

On Moving: A Writer's Meditation on New Houses, Old Haunts, and Finding Home Again, by Louise DeSalvo, explores the interesting phenomena that occurs when you are on the verge of moving. "Suddenly the old, cramped house was paradise, and the new house a barren building with none of the comforts or familiarity of 'home.'" DeSalvo, a memoirist and scholar, goes on to chronicle the moves of famous literary figures Percy Shelly, Virginia Woolf, and poet Mark Doty, who sells the house he and his dying lover spent decades renovating.

Now the question is--which book do you read first? Put down that stale-as-toast home improvement hardcover and head to the library for a dose of something a little different.

Peggy McMullen • Review: 'Creaky Old House' • Aug 24, 2009 • http://www.oregonlive.comhttp://www.oregonlive.com/hg/index.ssf/2009/08/review_creaky_old_house.html

About the Author
Mary Butler is a Boulder, Colorado based writer and editor, who spends much of her free time remodeling an old house.

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