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Sugarhouse: Turning the Neighborhood Crack House into Our Home Sweet Home Paperback – June 19, 2012

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Editorial Reviews


"Batt makes the story feel fresh through a combination of lively storytelling, some very funny misadventures, and a goodly portion of real human drama, for the decision to buy a house wasn’t a whim, being prompted by some pretty dire circumstances. A thoroughly enjoyable variation on a venerable theme."

"Batt’s home-rehab picaresque is hilarious, engrossing, and stocked with a cast of squirrely tradesmen and manic realtors...a charming take on domesticity . "
--Publishers Weekly

"Whether the focus is on the installation of a hand-cut slate floor tile or Grandpa’s new floozy girlfriend, Batt’s retelling is fast-paced. Everyone has a crazy family, but who has a crazy family and a crack house to renovate into a first home at the same time? That takes guts or insanity, and the fun of this book in finding out how it all ends up. VERDICT His description of "I don’t belong here" aisles in Home Depot feels so familiar. While it’s no how-to, this book makes it fun to follow Batt’s how-we-did-it, warts and all."
--Library Journal

"It’s hard to write funny, especially when your world is crumbling around you, but in this utterly compelling memoir, Matt Batt makes it look easy. This is a sweet and deeply memorable debut by a writer who’s clearly the real thing."
— Andre Dubus III, author of Townie

"Sugarhouse is hilarious. It's also sad. And uplifting. Ultimately it's a story about the most quotidian and most important thing any of us will do: make a home. Anyone who has ever argued over floor tile, loved a willful grandparent, or wondered what an orbital sander is, will enjoy this charming book."
-Anthony Doerr, author of Memory Wall

"Sugarhouse is a whale of a book -- an uproariously funny and deeply affecting account of home ownership and its discontents. Matt Batt has written a must-read manifesto for anyone who's ever faced off against a fast-talking real estate agent, an impossibly stubborn varnish, or a family on the brink of heartbreak. I'm still not sure how he managed to stuff so much life into one little book, but I'm dazzled at his achievement."
-Steve Almond, author of Candyfreak

"Matt Batt proves himself an oddball cousin to Thoreau and Tracy Kidder in Sugarhouse, a charming and compelling memoir in which a professor of writing decides to renovate a disaster of a house. Read the first two chapters, and you are likely to sign on eagerly for the rest of the telling, which shuttles easily back and forth from theory to practice, from humorous narrative to deepening meditation."
-Billy Collins, poet laureate of the United States, 2001-2003

"Winning, funny, and crackling with life, Sugarhouse is a can't-put-down chronicle of a bad house gone good and a good family gone in directions the author didn't expect. Batt’s book about glue, grace, gumption, and the grit it takes to keep on living is an unforgettable and sweet read."
-Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild

"This is one charming book, told by a self-effacing Midwesterner way over his head, who leads the reader through the quotidian experience of buying and renovating a house in such a fashion that it takes on all the dire import and difficulty of Hercules' famous tasks. While Batt doesn't have to clean the Stygian Stables to get his house in order (in every sense of that phrase), his feat seems nearly as difficult and should not go unheralded. A DIY book to end all DIY books, full of wit and generosity and mercy for the foibles of family members, friends, hucksters, and most importantly himself."
- Robin Hemley, author of Do-Over!

About the Author

Matt Batt's work has appeared in Tin House and on The Huffington Post and elsewhere. The Missouri Review recently called him a "heavy hitter" of nonfiction, and he's been nominated six times for the Pushcart Prize and is the recipient of an individual Artist Grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.


Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books; 1 edition (June 19, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0547634536
  • ISBN-13: 978-0547634531
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,623,937 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A. Reid VINE VOICE on May 10, 2012
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Most people consider me a pretty easy laugh, but I have to admit that this book did not hit my funny bone. Informative? Yes, sometimes. Engaging, engrossing, and sometimes horrifying and tragic - this well-written memoir was all that. But there was not a single LOL out of me, and that's pretty rare. If you're looking for madcap home renovation humor, you _may_ not find it here.

I have to say that I find it pretty hard not to read this book as deeply metaphorical, given what Matt tells us about his own background. As he and Janae try to put their own stamp on a house full of somebody else's messes, we spend a lot of time visiting the mess in Matt's family home. "Will the foundation bear the weight?" is a question as valid in either location. In both locations, there was a bit of nail-biting tension as I read to find out.

I wouldn't recommend this book to anybody looking for "uproariously funny" - although evidently some people have found it so, it just didn't even approach that for me. The heavy weights of grief and familial anger were hard for me to shake. "Charming and compelling" I got. If you're interested in an introspective and seemingly painfully honest memoir about a man's efforts to make the best of a sometimes sadly flawed environment (as husband, son, grandson and homeowner), you may be happy. The story is far more human and real than I was expecting, and I found myself caring quite a bit what happened with Matt and his family (all of it) as I went along. The book offered different rewards than I was expecting.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Rushmore VINE VOICE on May 14, 2012
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Sometimes the title is such a grabber, I can't resist.

This is the story of a young couple who was at the same time rootless and also very tangled up with their families. They were essentially independent, trying to establish a direction for their lives. At the same time, their families were pulling them back as families do, with the common dramas of everyday lives. The solution for Matt and Jenae Batt is to buy a house in Salt Lake City. A fixer-upper is all they can afford.

While I like this book quite a bit, I can't recommend it wholeheartedly.

The good:

1) Matthew Batt's voice - he is self-aware without being egotistical. This is a hard trick to pull off for a memoirist. Batt is funny and self-deprecating, a lovable Everyman. He seems like a guy you'd want to have a few beers with. He loves his family even when they are hard to love. He is not afraid to show his own warts and shows his family's warts only with the greatest compassion. Again, a hard trick to pull off.

2) I like Batt's depiction of Salt Lake City. Having spent some time there, I enjoyed reading about the place where you have to assume everyone you meet is Mormon - even those criticizing Mormons in the most sarcastic way. It is a gentle city, physically quite beautiful, where the arts flourish. Of course, Batt's SLC is more like the underside of the SLC I have visited on business trips. I enjoyed his perspective.

3) This book made me feel like anyone could buy a house that seemed completely hopeless and turn it into something livable. I walk into Home Depot and the chant starts drumming in my head: "You don't belong here. You are an impostor." Of course, I am usually there for minor items like hooks or sandpaper - or a gift card for a friend.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Zutron on June 24, 2013
Format: Paperback
Having grown up in the Sugarhouse area, I really wanted to like this book, but Batt was so condescending towards Salt Lake that I ended up just disliking him. I didn't find his ventures with power tools nearly as cute as he did. I've done a lot of home renovation without knowing what I'm doing, so I was actually interested in that aspect of the book, and ready for the laughs which were more like funny observations here and there, but certainly not laugh out loud funny. In the blurb on the book it also talks about this project "saving his marriage." You never get any sense that his marriage was in jeopardy or changed in any way and don't even get much of a sense of his wife as a person, only as a supporting, very background character. The scenes with his family (grandpa going off the rails, mom wringing her hands) were just sad and frustrating and not well tied to the home theme. As a liberal, native non-Mormon, I can diss Utah with the best of them, but he said so many embarrassingly wrong things about locals that I didn't trust his assesment of much of anything. He treated the people who saved his ass with construction as caricatures; not a kind payback. The primary flaw with the book though was he really doesn't bring anyone but himself to life, and neither he nor his story are all that interesting.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Celia Hayes VINE VOICE on June 8, 2012
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
And no, not Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, not even a book version of The Money Pit. While a charming read, with some laugh-out-loud turns of phrase, (for example, speaking of the author's grandfather fumbling with his cell phone - "He's as good with his cell phone as a lobster with a hand grenade." Or himself in the lumber aisle at Home Depot - "I march in, with what might as well be a Hello Kitty tape measure on my belt...") - this book has not much to do with the actual renovation of an old house in a transitional old neighborhood of Salt Lake City. I would have thought that an account purely devoted to home renovation woes in the Vatican City of the LDS Church would have been a pretty amusing on it's own, given an eccentric neighborhood and the vagaries of skilled craftsmen and gifted amateurs. The author really only devotes about a third of the book to actual tear-down and renovation. All that is clear was that the house in question was a mess of badly done repairs (and likely not a crack house), and that the author and his partner ripped out the wall to wall carpet, and put in a slate floor and replaced a beam under a sagging back porch. Other details dear to the hearts of consumers of home-renovation porn are omitted. How old was the house? What interesting things turned up during the renovation; what were the charming or interesting things about the neighborhood. And what did it look like when they were done, and how satisfied were they to be living in it?Read more ›
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