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The Language of Houses: How Buildings Speak to Us Hardcover – 19 Aug 2014

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 308 pages
  • Publisher: Delphinium Books (19 Aug 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1883285607
  • ISBN-13: 978-1883285609
  • Product Dimensions: 2.5 x 16.5 x 24.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 496,749 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

By Jill Meyer TOP 500 REVIEWER on 29 Sep 2014
Format: Hardcover
Alison Lurie has written a book, "The Language of Houses",on a subject that nearly everyone has an opinion about - the way we see both "personal" architecture (our homes) and "public" architecture (the other buildings we encounter in our lives). It is an interesting, if not a bit of bland, look at architecture.

I really think we all have reactions to the spaces we're in - either temporarily (a public building or another person's home) or more lengthy (our own homes). Mostly these feelings are transient - we either like and feel comfortable in the space we're in...or we don't. And if we don't, we often try to leave as soon as possible. This was an important "jumping off point" for me when I began this book, and I read the entire book without receiving much in the way of that, despite the book's subtitle: "How Buildings Speak to Us".

Ms Lurie does an excellent job at looking at the history of buildings and how they're constructed. She covers home styles as they've evolved from one room domains to modern homes with a room for everybody in the family. But she doesn't say much about how these homes affect the families that live within. I'm a compulsive viewer of house plans and love to consider how I could use the house as a home, while also thinking about how others could use it. Lurie writes a bit on how the modern home has moved from being filled with smallish rooms into designs with a lot of open spaces - the country kitchen, the second floor that opens up over the first floor, etc. She also examines how public buildings have evolved.

Okay, one thing a decent reviewer of a book should NOT do is to bemoan what the author does NOT include in her book. And that's what I'm doing here.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 11 reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
A great companion book to Bill Bryson's At Home 21 Aug 2014
By Vermont USA - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition
I was drawn to this book because it was compared to Bill Bryson's At Home. I found this one a bit breezier and broader than Bryson’s focus on the house through history. Lurie touches on all the buildings in our lives, from schools to museums and more. This is a companionable book for anyone interested in the meaning of everyday life as seen through the eyes of architecture.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Smart, witty and insightful. 21 Aug 2014
By Retro Guy - Published on
Format: Hardcover
I enjoyed Lurie's view of the structures all around us every day very, very much! With just enough literary and historical references. Like her novels, this work of non-fiction has a beautiful flow.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
A fascinating, eye-opening read. 22 Sep 2014
By Peter Agrafiotis - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I found The Language of Houses fascinating. I’d never realized how many powerful or subtle messages can be conveyed by varieties of rooms, arrangements within them, and by the surrounding whole of the structure. I was especially taken with Ms. Lurie’s repeated invoking of sociological and psychological issues relating to status, a factor of life we don’t often talk of directly today in our supposed classless society. Ms. Lurie shows us that the environments we create speak truths we hesitate to admit in words. I have read all of Alison Lurie’s novels and I find her clear and direct non-fiction style – enlivened further with satisfyingly humorous asides to the reader – presents her font of ideas and well-researched facts in as stimulating (or else soothing) a manner as descriptions of atmospheres, characters and characters’ motives in her novels. The Language of Houses well met my standard of a good read in non-fiction: encouraging me to look at things around me in a new way, to think of things I hadn’t before.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
All around us. 22 Aug 2014
By CF Troy - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Novelist Lurie shines in her latest work of non-fiction. I loved her Language of Clothes, and this new book is fun, fascinating and great brain food!
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
A Most Disappointing Book 19 Nov 2014
By Janet Perry - Published on
Format: Hardcover
If I say the word house, what comes to mind?

Probably a place where a person or a family lives.

Unhappily, Lurie seems to think that this word encompasses every sort of building, from museums to you office cubicle.

That could be why she spends almost 60% of the book on them. So what you & I mean by 'house" is not the focus of the book.

That's the first problem.

The second problem is the book shows Lurie's prejudices as a boarding-school-educated New Yorker because she doesn't like: housing developments, commerce, overweight people, or folks who live in the West. Rarely does she talk about architectural styles of the West. She has little but contempt for the tastes of the middle class, verbally sneering at sectionals and overstuffed recliners.

That wouldn't be quite so bad if she didn't show a lack of research about many things. While she's quick to identify several styles of churches, she seems completely unaware of many significant styles of churches, something easily remedied.

When talking about housing developments, which she obviously dislikes, she completely ignores two highly significant historical, architectural and social movements that lead to our current state: the rise of bungalows in the first half of the 20th Century, and the explosion of suburbia after World War II. Both these developments importantly led to our current ideas about houses and the dream of home ownership. And, importantly, the trends made these things possible not for just the middle class, but for the working class, a group of people Lurie ignores.

To make matters worse, her supposed analysis is all on the surface. It was bad enough in the early chapters of the book, when she actually talked about houses, but as the book continues she increasingly gives the readers only descriptions. Nothing really about what these things might mean.

I was so disappointed in this book, because her previous "language" book, The Language of Clothes, was great. I think had Lurie actually focused deeply on houses and only on houses, perhaps there could have been something there, but given a level of analysis barely above one of her students, I think it might have been too big a subject for her.

Don't waste your time.
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