Author: Katharine Greider
Title: The archaeology of home : an epic set on a thousand square feet of the Lower East Side
Publication Info: New York : PublicAffairs, c2011.
Summary/Review: With much anticipation, I received this book as an advanced reading copy through the Library Thing Early Reviewers program. Greider and her family lived on two floors of a refurbished tenement house on East 7th Street in Manhattan until a home inspector discovered that the building was unstable and on the verge of collapse. She researched the house’s history to deal with contractors and lawyers and from that grew this fascinating microhistory. Starting with pre-colonial native tribes through Dutch and English settlement, the construction of the tenement in 1845 and all it’s residents through the troubled era of the 70’s & 80’s, Greider details the lives and times of the people who have lived on this spot and their neighbors. It’s a detailed look at the use of one plot of land that touches on history, archaeology, ethnography and sociology. Amidst the history is Greider’s own story of renovation, lawsuits, and displacement which I did not like so much, in fact it uncomfortably reminded me of Under the Tuscan Sun (one of my least favorite books). This should be a book that I love in that it covers many things I’m obsessed with – history, New York, immigration, social life, urbanism – but alas I just like this book. I had to put this book down several times while reading it because I just couldn’t get into it Greider’s writing style. Nevertheless I salute her brilliant premise and extensive research in creating this book.
“The typical Manhattan abode simply lacks the square footage necessary to organize interior space according to expectations. What you get instead is a commingling of functions that are normally segregated and an intimacy some find inappropriate or uncomfortable. Children share a bedroom, or even sleep in their parent’s room. Often there’s only one bathroom. In a few of the oldest tenements, the bathtub is still in the kitchen. People often eat in their living rooms. Entertaining in these circumstances is almost unavoidably casual. If a couple who lives in a tiny walk-up invite you to dinner, you will witness the ferocious labor required to prepare a hot meal in a galley kitchen, to drag out a folding table while kicking toys out of the way, and then to tidy up the blitzkrieg that results. It is all very unlovely and close; acquire the taste and nothing could be nicer.” – p. 80
Recommended books: New York Calling by Marshall Berman and Brian Berger and Five Points by Tyler Anbinder.