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Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived in That House Paperback – June 14, 2011
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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
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top Customer Reviews
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.
That said - this book seemed like a slapped together, poorly edited journal of a self-absorbed adult. "I felt fatuous..." really? I thought people felt "foolish." Her mean-spirited comments towards the poor Dani! I was hoping for an apology at the end of the book, when Meghan's life took some of the same turns. Who cares if some people buy wicker furniture? Not everyone is defined by their furniture or possessions - Meghan doesn't seem to understand or accept that.
Also, I was put off by the way the author looked down her nose at her own family and their "lackluster" lives. I don't know, that just seemed disrespectful.
Life isn't about how many books you have in storage, it's about making real, genuine connections with other humans. I read as much as anyone I know, but I find purchased books quickly turn to clutter - and I'm glad I got this book from the library and I can return it.
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.
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 ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Meghan shares her obsession with finding the perfect 'abode', defining our need for a place to call home as more important than any other relationship we could have.... Read morePublished 1 month ago by Kathi Lachenauer
An autobiographical account of the places the author lived and various associations she had with the places and the people of those places. It's okay but not great. Read morePublished 2 months ago by Amazon Customer
Funny stories of house hunting and trying to make peace with your lifePublished 6 months ago by SCB
I got this at the Dollar Tree for a buck because I thought by reading the title and inside flap, that this was a book about the author's experience with houses and real estate. Read morePublished 9 months ago by Chris330r
In the same vein in which fellow memoirist Patricia Morrisroe chronicles her life up to the present by depicting her serial relationships with shoes in 9 1/2 Narrow, Life Would Be... Read morePublished 11 months ago by Meg
I LOV ED THIS BOOK SHE IS SO FUNNY FOR THE PERSON WHO CALLED IT DARK HUMOE I DIDN'T KNOW THAT HUMOR HAS A COLOR. Read morePublished 12 months ago by VALERIE TOWNSEND
Very interesting book. I wish I had read it when I was younger but then again, as an older person I am learning to be satisfied with what I have now. Read morePublished 15 months ago by E. Ervin
I was thinking this would be right up my alley since in our house we watch a ton of House Hunters and we love to drive through pretty neighborhoods "just looking" and... Read morePublished 18 months ago by EpicFehlReader