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Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived in That House Hardcover – Deckle Edge, May 4, 2010


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Read an excerpt from Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived in That House by Meghan Daum [PDF].

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; First Edition edition (May 4, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307270661
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307270665
  • Product Dimensions: 8.8 x 6 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (69 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #416,613 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Questions for Meghan Daum on Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived in That House

Q: In Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived in That House, you detail your lifelong obsession with real estate and your quest for a place to call home. What does "home" mean to you? How has that meaning evolved over the years?
A: Asking what "home" means is like asking what "love" means. And, as I say in the book, I have a pet peeve about people referring to houses as homes, especially if they’re talking in terms of real estate or about properties as physical, purchasable entities. "I just bought a new home," someone will say. Really? What does that mean? You bought a feeling, a mélange of smells, a history? No, you bought a house! In my mind, you buy a house but you make a home.

Q: In your book you say, "I wanted to live on another block, in another part of town, in New York, in Paris, on the moon." Why the constant desire to move around?
A: The open houses my parents took me to as a child probably were a factor. We didn’t do sports or play games or relax much on weekends, but my mother was always up for open houses and, moreover, the idea of moving to a new house. I definitely inherited my restlessness from her. I’ve also found that moving functions as something of a stimulant for me. During the process of moving out of an old place and getting settled in a new place I find I become more energetic, more excited about my surroundings and more motivated about my life trajectory. And being in a new place just naturally makes you more observant. It’s like I can feel a set of antennas rising from my skull as I pull into a new town or neighborhood. And that’s a rush; I can’t deny it.

Q: After several years in New York, you moved to Lincoln, Nebraska. What attracted you to such a different place? How much of a factor was the high price of real estate in New York in your decision to relocate?
A: The reason I give most often for moving to Nebraska is, yes, the less expensive cost of living (it’s the most easily explained.) I rented a large apartment with beautiful woodwork in Lincoln for about a sixth of what it would have cost me in Manhattan. I was in a lot of debt from student loans and various other things, so I framed my decision around my financial picture. But that belied a deeper, less tangible and infinitely more pressing reason that I went to Nebraska, which is that I felt an almost chemical urge to radically change my surroundings. As enamored as I’d been in my teens and 20s of New York City, I always nursed a constant, low-grade crush on the idea of rural life and, specifically, the aesthetics of the prairie. Some of that, I’ll admit, came from having watched the Little House on the Prairie series on television and reading the books as a kid. I was consumed with the idea of homesteading, so much so that I made my mother sew me a sunbonnet so I could run around like Laura Ingalls. She also put an extra box spring under my bed and leaned a step ladder against it so I could climb up to it as though it were Laura and her sister’s loft bed. Even as I grew older and outgrew Laura Ingalls I remained enthralled with the aura surrounding the high plains. I loved--and still love--the starkness of that geography, the huge sky, the scarcity of the trees, the drama of the weather. But because it’s easier to tell yourself and others that you’re uprooting your life and moving to the central plains in order to save money rather than to watch a hail storm through the window of a rattling farmhouse, I basically went with that story. Not that the money part isn’t true; I desperately needed to get out of debt. But there are ways to do that that don’t involve hailstorms, so clearly something else was at work.

Q: When you eventually moved to L.A., you had a hard time letting go of life in Nebraska, and nearly bought a farmhouse there as a vacation home. Why do you think you had such a hard time leaving Lincoln for good? Does the allure of a farmhouse still call to you?
A: The farmhouse definitely still calls to me! When I moved to L.A. I missed Nebraska terribly, not just for the obvious reason of missing the friends I’d made there but also for (again this is intangible and a bit tricky to explain) the entire mood of the place. I could describe that mood as "laid back" but that doesn’t quite get to it. It’s more like I detected in Nebraska a sort of peaceful coexistence with reality. That sounds kind of sophomoric and pretentious, I know, but I guess what I’m saying is that I noticed a greater acceptance there of the messiness and absurdity of life. That acceptance can be difficult to find in places where the financial stakes are higher and people tend to be harder driving in the conventional sense and more invested in achieving some notion of perfection. As a former New Yorker, that kind of mentality was, alas, quite a novelty to me. And after soaking it up for nearly four years I landed in a canyon north of Los Angeles surrounded by a lot of wealthy people who wore their "laid backness" like designer jeans while they were in fact so anxious that their pets were on Xanax (true.) So in the midst of that I found myself craving that stark geography again. And every time I go back to Nebraska, which is at least once a year, I feel just so exhilarated when that plane touches down.

Q: After taking the big real-estate plunge, you met, dated, and eventually married your now husband. Do you think there’s any sort of karmic connection between the two?
A: I’d like to say yes but I’d probably be lying. I was in that house for two years before I met or even really tried to meet someone (because in my mind it wasn’t enough to own a house; it had to be totally fixed up.) And I wasn’t even finished when I met my now-husband, since I made him shop for antique kitchen drawer pulls on our first date. I think it was mostly luck--and the fact that he called me for a second date even after I dragged him to an architectural salvage yard.

Q: What is it about real estate that draws such a following? Why are so many Americans so obsessed with the size, location, and style of their home? Do you think there’s a deeper meaning to this fixation?
A: The essence of this book is really an examination of the emotions that inform these obsessions. Yes, it’s a book about houses. But it’s also about how we see ourselves in the world vis-à-vis our family, our social class, our aspirations, and our fears. The way I’ve always thought of it, a house is ultimate metaphor. It’s more than just shelter for ourselves and for our loved ones, more than just "the biggest purchase you’ll ever make." It’s like a really expensive, high-maintenance, inanimate version of ourselves. It’s a repository for every piece of baggage we’ve ever carried. Our homes protect us from the outside world, show our off taste, and accommodate our stuff. Perhaps above all, they prove to ourselves and to the world that we’ve truly moved out of our childhood bedrooms. You don’t have to be a real estate junkie, I think, to feel this way.

From Publishers Weekly

By turns disarming and tedious, Daum's (The Quality of Life Report) cautionary tale about house lust tracks her dizzying succession of moves from New York City to Lincoln, Neb., to Los Angeles. Place becomes inextricably linked with being, and fashioning an impressive shelter creates a whole life, from choosing college at Vassar because it could ultimately secure her a shabby yet elegant prewar apartment in Manhattan to a self-empowering, self-confessed hare-brained relocation at age 29—single, and now an established journalist and author—to the plains of Nebraska to achieve the perpetually elusive domestic integrity. Desiring to be that person who deserved to have the perfect living situation, Daum is seized by full-blown real-estate addiction, despite her inability to afford anything like her dream place, and she eventually migrates from the modest charms of a Lincoln farmhouse to the parched crevices of L.A., where she aims to write a screenplay. Here the locus of her memoir fixes on the purchase of a dilapidated bungalow in Echo Park in 2004: becoming a homeowner translates into being an evolved human. Alas, the outcome is sadly predictable, even the finding-the-man-to-fill-the-house with, but Daum's treading in the wake of the burst housing bubble is sweet and timely. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

More About the Author

Meghan Daum is the author of the essay collection My Misspent Youth and the novel The Quality of Life Report, a New York Times Notable Book. Her column on political, cultural, and social affairs appears weekly in the Los Angeles Times and is distributed nationally through the McClatchy news service. She has contributed to public radio's Morning Edition, Marketplace, and This American Life, and has written for numerous publications, including The New Yorker, Harper's Magazine, GQ, Vogue, Harper's Bazaar, and The New York Times Book Review. She lives in Los Angeles.

Customer Reviews

While Daum can be witty, the self-deprecating humor became grating very quickly.
Anne
No matter what time of day I picked it up to read, I was asleep in just a few pages because there was nothing to hold my attention.
J. Matheu
I came away with the feeling that her life experience has not really taught her very much.
Sydney

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

46 of 49 people found the following review helpful By Ingrid Abrash on May 7, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Sometimes I get a feeling that feels so unique, I think that it would be impossible to ever put it into words, like the compulsion to buy all new "clean" makeup after a successful second date, the need to buy new underwear after getting a promotion, or the desire to clean my car after I get in a fight with a friend. This book explains those feelings, all processed through real estate. I can't count anymore how many times I've rearranged furniture in my life - including heavy dorm furniture. In fact, I went out to dinner with an exceptionally skinny friend the other night, and then promptly went home and ordered all new, white lampshades.

But I digress. "Life Would be Perfect if I Live in that House" captures this phenomenon perfectly. The feeling that everything will be okay if there were just some wainscotting around. The notion that everything will never be okay if the furniture is out of proportion. I marvel at the folks who don't have these concerns - are they even out there? But the truth is that for those of us who do, who "break up" with the Restoration Hardware catalog, only to come crawling back when your relationship with the Rose Bowl flea market has tanked, will love this book. And those folks who don't have this obsession/quirk will find it a hilarious anthropological read. Actually, I laughed so hard at a few points that my dog freaked out a little.

Buy and keep.
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28 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Pamela V VINE VOICE on April 6, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
"Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived in That House," by Meghan Daum, is a hard book to categorize. It's a memoir about the author and her almost endless search for the perfect house, apartment, home.

The story begins with Daums childhood, so we understand that she inherited this wanderlust for moving from her mother. After several major (cross-country) moves, the family settled in Jersey, just across the river from New York City, where they hoped to live someday. Eventually Meghan did get to New York City, and rented an almost perfect apartment there, but the perfection didn't last, as we find out in the book. That is basically what the book is about : the authors obsession with seeking and finding places to live, but not being satisfied with the place once she's living there.

I understand this completely because I do it too. For years I moved from apartment to apartment, then began searching tirelessly for houses to buy. My family used to have to accompany me while I "looked at houses," perpetually. I scoured the internet, always looking for a place with a bigger yard, a larger kitchen, or multiple fireplaces. I made offers on dozens of horrendous properties, but luckily never ended up buying one. (At 45, I'm on my fourth home, and this one is a keeper).

So I completely identify with Meghan Daum and her plight.

Overall I found this book to be enjoyable, well-written, and sometimes amusing. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys watching real estate TV, and likes the human side of things.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By E. Griffin VINE VOICE on April 18, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Life Would be Perfect If I Lived in That House is a memoir of Megan Daum's "lifelong game of playing house." Home ownership has long been a part of the American dream, the largest purchase (and investment) that most people ever make. Like millions of other Americans, Megan Daum purchased a small, fixer-upper home at the height of the real estate boom.

However, this memoir is not the typical story of the trials and tribulations of homeownership. Instead, Megan Daum shares with us a journey of defining yourself by where you live. As a child, her parents moved several times, finally setting in a house in suburban New Jersey, despite the fact that most of her father's work was in Chicago. The house is close, but definitely not in, New York City, paralleling her parent's desire for a type of existence that they almost, but didn't quite, have. Eventually, her parents live apart, ending up in two separate apartments in the New York City that fulfill their individual dreams.

Megan begins to build her own life in terms of housing, selecting the college that she thinks will eventually lead her to owning an apartment in a pre-war building in Manhattan. After her first year in the dormitory, she begins moving from place to place, always looking for something better or a new escape. As her dream of being a sophisticated New Yorker begins to fray, Megan chooses a new dream of living in a simpler, inexpensive place and moves to Lincoln, Nebraska. This begins an odyssey of farmhouses, inexpensive apartments, and unsuitable live-in boyfriends that is broken by an almost equally impulsive move to Los Angeles.

In Los Angeles, Megan rents and house sits, never finding a place where she is completely comfortable.
Read more ›
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35 of 43 people found the following review helpful By lazytime on May 24, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I was a fan of Meghan Daum's essay collection, My Misspent Youth, and since I just bought real estate for the first time, I couldn't wait to read this book. And while the book has its moments and there were a number of things I identified with, it's a mess. I found myself wondering: Is Daum a one-trick pony? (A big chunk of this story -- her New York years -- was sufficiently covered in previous essays.) Does she actually have an editor? (She's extremely redundant.) And, most importantly, do I really have as much in common with her as I'd previously thought, because she's kind of an insecure snob whose taste (and "mental hygiene," as she puts it) isn't as strong as she thinks it is. Only until the last couple of chapters does she seem to change, and while I was glad to see it, this "arc" was too little/too late, forced for the sake of storytelling and given less space than boring descriptions of hideous furniture. The early chapters, about her childhood and college years, suggest she still has scores to settle or a lot to prove. (She insists we need to know these things to understand why she is so obsessed with housing, but I don't buy it.) One thing that amused me endlessly throughout the book was Daum's reliance on "I remember almost nothing from this time" statements. Come on, memoirist, you can do better than that. If nothing else, this book taught me about the kind of property owner I don't want to be. (2.5 stars.)
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