By Cheryl Mendelson
"Cheryl Mendelson knows the secret of transforming a house into a home. This extraordinary book is to be read for its wise counsel, its authoritative advice, and its illuminating insights into the management of the domestic realm. As if that were not enough, it is beautifully written."—Witold Rybczynski, author of A Clearing in the Distance, Home, and City Life
"In this entrancing book, Cheryl Mendelson restores keeping house to its rightful place as a custodian of the peace, order, comfort, and sanity of our lives, simultaneously instructing us in how to do it well and in why doing it matters so much... she restores the dignity, value and craft to the work that creates and sustains the private space that nourishes our humanity."—Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, author of Feminism is Not the Story of My Life and Feminism Without Illusions
Cheryl Mendelson is a working woman with a secret life: she likes to keep house. A lawyer and philosopher by training, she is part of the first generation of women who worked more than they stayed home. But she learned to keep her passion for domesticity to herself. After all, everyone knew that no judge would credit the brief of a housewife, no university would give one tenure, and certainly no one would talk to one at a party. The world had devalued housework.
With her first book, Home Comforts: The Art & Science of Keeping House, Mendelson does her best to change all this. This is a book that reaffirms the art—and dignity—of housekeeping with the same warmth and clear, comprehensive explanations found in Mrs. Beeton's 1861 classic book on household management.
Home Comforts is not about decorating. Nor does it have recipes and gardening tips. This is a book about how the home works—not how it looks—and ultimately, it is about private life and creating a space where it can flourish.
Unlike books of household "tips and hints," Home Comforts tells the whys of housekeeping (as well as the hows and the whats) and considers the meanings as well as the methods of home life and housekeeping skills. Drawing on research skills acquired during her legal and academic training, author Mendelson backs up personal experience and the family lore passed on to her by two gifted, housekeeping grandmothers with information from the sciences, medicine, law, economics, manufacturers, businesses, and a variety of safety experts and governmental agencies. The result is an inviting tone and lively practicality that teaches, informs, and sometimes, debunks.
Home Comforts is comprehensive and cutting-edge. It does a thorough job in presenting housekeeping basics, but does not stop with them. Besides laundering, ironing, bed-making, cleaning, food storage, dishwashing, caring for fine china (and what makes it fine), and the right temperature for refrigerators and freezers, it goes into caring for books and musical instruments, killing germs, how housekeeping can battle allergies, home computers, laws on accidents and liability, controlling home air quality, when to ignore a garment care label, choosing light bulbs, recycling, and domestic employment and tax laws.
Home Comforts devotes one of its eight parts (Cleanliness) to a substantial survey of housecleaning—vacuuming, dusting, caring for tiles, carpets, upholstery, wood, wicker, windows, floors and countertops, and all other common materials and objects in the home. But because cleaning, according to Mendelson, is only one part of housekeeping, the other seven sections are devoted to Beginnings (household organizing, routines, neatness and values), Food, Cloth (fabrics and laundering), Daily Life, Sleep, Safe Shelter, and Formalities (laws, insurance, acquiring important documents). In each area covered, beginners will find attractive, good reading on the fundamentals; and everyone, including more experienced readers, will find a judicious collection of details and updated information that is useful in every household.
Home Comforts is a compelling, witty, opinionated, personal book. Unique and engaging, it will revitalize housekeeping, which ultimately is the art and science that, as Mendelson argues, sustains, nurtures, and preserves home and private life.
The Art and Science of Keeping House
By Cheryl Mendelson
Scribner, November 1999
896 pages, 225 black and white line drawings
Information provided by the publisher.
This page created March 2001
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