Home Comforts

Home Comforts

The Art & Science of Keeping House

by Cheryl Mendelson
Trade Paperback, 884 pages
Price: $22.00

Cheryl Mendelson was born in a time warp. The product of both Italian and Anglo-Irish heritage, she was raised in Appalachian Pennsylvania in the 1950s among women who still did things the old-fashioned way. She learned to sew, cook, raise kids, garden, clean, and appreciate good music—all as part of a domestic education to rival those of past centuries.

Not to rival, but built on those past centuries of perfected methodology and theory, the product rather than the antithesis. Mendelson is also that rare breed who achieved what many only dream about and still decided to manage her home. A graduate of Harvard Law School, lawyer and professor of philosophy, she nonetheless chooses to stay primarily at home, a proud member of the noble and historical union of Housewives.

All these elements are present in Home Comforts: The Art & Science of Keeping House. There is more information here than you could shake a duster at, but it's not useless tidbits of the Martha Stewart variety or uninteresting drudgery of the "how to" variety. Mendelson presents a whole philosophy of home, showing by example how to discern between what matters and what doesn't, when to pay attention to the label directions and when not to.

There's a whole chapter on stain removal, a glossary of laundry products and additives, a glossary of fabric terms, information on where to store flammable and combustible gases (and what to use them for), advice for keeping the air in your house fresh, tips for making the best food and drink and not spending too much on either....all this followed by seventeen etceteras.

But it's not just all work, either. Mendelson investigates the culture of the bedroom, talks about counteracting insomnia and getting enough sleep, encourages the keeping of scrapbooks and photo albums, discusses laws regarding the hire of domestic help, and offers insight into the collection and care of books. And on and on and on. The amount of knowledge and practical skill the author demonstrates is almost irritating.

It would be irritating if this volume wasn't so helpful and just plain fun to read. It's the kind of book you can pick up and read cover to cover (though at 845 pages it would take awhile), or flip to a passage that interests you and peruse at your own leisure. A lot of books pretend to have this virtue, this one actually does. This really isn't the kind of volume your home can afford to be without. Already hailed as a modern classic, this is The Best Book About the Home and Its Care for a contemporary audience, and likely for generations of audiences to come.

Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.

Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.
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Summary: Everything you ever wanted to know about housework and domestic pursuits.

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  Home Comforts
HappyHomemaker of Oregon, 4/14/2011
As a proud member of the Homemakers Union, I am always willing to take a peek at books about my vocation. And once I picked this book up, I wasn't content with just a peek. This the THE home-keeping reference book for this century. It is for the experienced homemaker as much for the newbie. For those who did not have a mother who taught them basic house-keeping skills, she has 'How to Wash the Dishes,' 'Threading Your Needle,' and 'How to Make the Bed,' among numerous others. For one with a black-belt in those areas, there are sections on the science of fabric and cleaning, protecting your wood, china, clothes, glasses, floors, tubs, drains, microwave, fridge, washer, dryer... and lots more!

I love having this book to reference, but also just for inspiration. She has lovely ideas about setting an attractive table, keeping the air in your castle fresh, and even making your bedroom a warm, welcoming place!
On top of all that, this is a modern book. She talks about microwaves, blenders, what the Best If Used By dates mean, and she even explains the laws about personal property! I suppose the lawyer in her couldn't conclude the book without that...

I must note that she sets high standards. Personally, I like this. I like having an ideal to reach for, and at the same time being perfectly content knowing that I CAN'T reach it. Not with a growing family of little ones. For instance, when I read how she thinks the kitchen should look like before you go to bed, I decided that I couldn't do all of that, but I COULD decide to take one thing (in this case, sweeping the floor) and start doing that. Next time I read that part, I'll try to pick up another idea.

All in all, a GREAT BOOK!