Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The Fiffers (Fifty Ways to Help Your Community) have collected 19 engaging essays, 15 of which are published here for the first time and each of which evokes a specific room that fostered its author's concept of home. Many of the pieces deal with childhood, such as Richard Bausch's bittersweet memories of his great-grandmother's porch (``The Porch'') and ``The Teen's Bedroom,'' Alex Kotlowitz's touching description of the small back bedroom he shared with his brother in a ground-floor Manhattan apartment. In ``The Living Room,'' Henry Louis Gates Jr. describes how the room in which his family gathered during the 1950s and '60s to watch TV gave him his first understanding of the civil rights movement and brought him images of African Americans through sitcoms and movies. Jane Smiley contributes a humorous tribute to the importance of hot baths enjoyed in a variety of bathrooms. (Nov.)
Eighteen well-known contemporary authors such as Bailey White, Jane Smiley, and Clint McCown recount their experiences in a meaningful room in their lives. Edited by the Fiffers (50 Simple Ways To Help Your Community, Doubleday, 1994), this collection explores personal memories of childhood, both sad and humorous, along with the relationship of shelter to home. Sally Tisdale's "The Basement" tells of trips to her grandmother's when she and her siblings would have to stay in the basement and play with an old scooter while upstairs the adults socialized and played cards. Susan Power's "The Attic: A Family Museum" uses a visit to the attic with her mother as a frame on which to stretch ancestral tales. The book's charm lies in its evocative quality and the sense of continuity it imparts to the home and family, especially in this era of homelessness and shifting family arrangements. Strongly recommended for all readers.-Nancy R. Ives, SUNY at Geneseo
School Library Journal
YAIn this engaging collection of stories and essays, 18 contemporary American writers remember distinctive rooms from their pasts. Richard Bausch recalls a grandmother's birthday party on the wonderful porch of an old Victorian house in Washington, D.C. and turns this reverie into reflections on life and death. Vivid details fill these mini-memoirs. Esmeralda Santiago writes about poverty and terrors found in her closets in the barrio. Black-and-white television in the 1950s living room became for Henry Louis Gates, Jr., the arena for the drama of race. Jane Smiley sought solitude and refuge in bathrooms. Lynda Barry's "The Teenage Bedroom" will make a terrific booktalk. These evocative pieces can inspire students of creative writing and teachers of the essay and short story. They could be an antidote for classes studying the plight of the homeless, and will be a great pleasure to YAs living in and shaped by homespace. Most of the selections have not been previously published. Tiny, charming illustrations appear at the beginning of each chapter of this lovely book.Betta Hedlund, Mary Riley Styles Public Library, Falls Church, VA
Each of the 18 writers in this collection evokes a room he or she lived or lives in (or in one case, conjures up) in voices ranging from the comic to the haunting. Contributors include Lynda Barry, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Gish Jen, Mona Simpson, and Sallie Tisdale. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Credit the Fiffers--authors of "Fifty Ways to Help Your Community" (1994)--with a terrific idea, implemented well. In "Home", 19 authors explore the links between physical, intellectual, and emotional space, between homes and "home." For Richard Bausch and Tony Earley, a porch and a hallway inspire multigenerational sagas. Esmeralda Santiago describes a childhood's worth of closets and closetlike spaces. Spouses Colin and Kathryn Harrison focus respectively on the master bedroom and the children's bedroom of their adult lives together. Jane Smiley celebrates bathrooms; Henry Louis Gates, Jr., the living room and its television set; Gish Jen, the many functions of the garage. Other contributors (Karen Karbo, Sallie Tisdale, Alex Kotlowitz, Lynda Barry, Susan Power, James Finn Garner, Clint McCown, Bailey White, and "Afterword" author Allan Gurganus) share their own special corners. Some of those spaces--some of those memories--will resonate for every reader. A wonderful collection of mini-memoirs; what's more, half the editors' proceeds will go to homeless-assistance groups!
When we think of our childhood, and of our families, we are also often thinking of the place we knew as home, the setting for the rituals and dramas that define a family. In Home Sharon and Steve Fiffer have assembled original essays by 18 contemporary American writers, each a recollection of some one room from their past. Not surprisingly, these rooms have come to carry a good deal of symbolic weight. The naturalist Sallie Tisdale writes about the basement in her grandmother's house, clean but haphazardly piled with all the debris of past life that her grandmother could not bear to discard. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., the scholar and the author most recently of Colored People, A Memoir, remembers his parent's living room, and more particularly the television set that dominated it, drawing the family together each night, functioning like a fireplace in the proverbial New England winter.
Not all of the essays deal with the authors' childhoods, though most do. Colin and Kathryn Harrison, husband and wife (both are novelists), contribute a set of nicely matching essays, he on their bedroom and the manner in which their small children have made the room their own, she on the children's room nearby. The novelist Susan Power contributes a moving piece about the extraordinary things brought to light when she and her mother explored her grandmother's attic, discovering letters and journals a century old, releasing "a legion of ghosts, a chain of lives." Mona Simpson recreates the kitchen in her grandmother's house (in further testament to our unsettled times, many of the middle-aged writers in the collection spent at least part of their childhood living with grandparents). Jane Smiley meditates on the qualities that go to make a comfortable bathroom. The novelist Clint McCown writes about the events played out around the front door of the family home, and makes an essential point about all of these pieces: a particular setting gives us a frame to set our family in, a way "to call them all together at a place in time."
One of the pleasures of an anthology is the way in which the voices play off against one another. One of the drawbacks is the inevitable unevenness of any collection. Both points apply to Home, but even given the cryptic or fragmentary nature of some of the essays, the book is often enough sad or haunting or funny or startling to repay a reading. --Patheon