Recovery Book Binge – The House on First Street

August 17th, 2010

Over the past few weeks, I have been involved in something of a reading frenzy.  Especially last week where I managed to swallow three books whole and that was in the midst of a heat wave at the Garden Center that melted my brain to the sides of my ribs.  All I can tell you is that books have always been my balm, my healer, my personal shaman medicine man and after our insane trip to Yellowstone, I needed a hefty dose of book therapy.   I read like some people empty bottles of booze into their bellies.  I read like a crack addict, like a person stranded in the desert for seven days and the book is my last cold bucket of water.  I also watch movies when I am freaking out.  Movies and books… and I purchase unnecessary items at Target – like throw pillows and hand towels and hair clips and experimental snack food with clever packaging that never turns out to be very good and new kinds of soap that are always disappointing, but look cute sitting on the sink.

This is how I deal…

This is one of my recent recovery books…

I love to read stories about home renovations/building/projects. I am pretty sure that if they offered a PhD in the subject about either ‘country life books’ or ‘books about people building or renovating a house’ I could earn it without ever setting foot onto a university campus. Because I have read all of them twice – except for this one, The House on First Street by Julia Reed.  I found it in one of my favorite sections of the library a few weeks ago and I sucked it down like a drunk just out of jail after two days in the tank.

In this book, Julia Reed, a journalist who writes for Vogue and Newsweek among other well known magazines tackles the renovation of a 6,000 square foot Greek Revival in the fabulous Garden District of New Orleans, but right in the middle of her project, Hurricane Katrina arrives and the entire book shifts course and charges into the muck and mire of post Katrina New Orleans telling the story of the storm from a very unique perspective.

Because Julia is a journalist, she was allowed back into New Orleans (after the city is evacuated) to cover the story.  She paints a picture of the aftermath of Katrina that is warm and heroic but punctuated with just enough crime and crack and bureaucratic ineptitude to keep it real.  I think if there is one word to describe this book it would be – unflinching -  because Julia describes the events that occur around her multi-million dollar house project unabashedly in the midst of a scale of human upheaval and loss that just doesn’t happen in America.  So while the poor folks in New Orleans have lost everything, are camping out at the Super Dome and being shipped to Texas to live in FEMA apartments and while the working class, the waiters, the bus boys, and the dishwashers at all of Julia’s favorite upscale restaurants are trying to find a school to enroll their kids in and find out if there is anything left of their homes, Julia is sitting high and dry in the Garden District, throwing back lobster and champagne, pissed off that her contractor failed to fix the roof on the sun room of her mansion which has now leaked all over her custom made sisal rug.

But Julia recognizes her situation for what it is.  She diligently jumps in to help the city, tell the story to the American public, feed the workforce that is cleaning up and maintaining order in the city, as well as making sure everyone who ever worked for her, cooked for her and cleaned for her is taken care of – even if it means hiring a lawyer to bail them out of jail over and over again.  Julia is a good person who just happens to be extremely rich and if her book is anything close to the truth (and who really knows with an autobiography) it is very difficult not to wish you knew her personally by the end of it.

Thanks to Nanne for leaving the link to Julia’s house.  You can see photos of her home at Visual Vamp.


  • Lee (sometimes known as Another Lee):

    I just finished up some Target therapy yesterday! And I too slurp books! But I inhale TV series more than movies. I’m still queasy from my Veronica Mars binge last week.

    I hope we get reviews on the whole pile. I’m reading Outliers on my iPhone, which requires me to slide my non-astigmatism contact lens to the left and then squint. So I won’t be finished anytime soon.

  • JennyME:

    Funnily enough, I just got this book from the library & it’s sitting on my coffee table, waiting to be read. I love house renovation books too–have you read Castles in the Air, by Judy Corbett?

    • Rechelle:

      Jenny – What? There’s another house book out there that I haven’t read? I will check it out promptly!

  • M.R.:

    “I read like a crack addict.”

    Well, I am more like the CD when it comes to vacation plans, but I am right with you on books. I have to be at work by 7:00 a.m. and I cannot tell you how many nights I tell myself — “Well, you only get 4 hours of sleep on those nights when you can’t do anything but toss and turn — so you can make it on 4 hours tomorrow.” cause I can’t put a book down!

  • Kay in KCMO:

    “I love to read stories about home renovations/building/projects”

    Have you read Michael Pollan’s “A Place of My Own”? It’s about him building – with one guy helping – a writing studio for himself. I highly recommend it.

    Another good one is “Norm Abram’s New House” by Norm Abram. It’s about him building his (and his then wife’s) dream house.

    Both books are many years old, but I think highly worth reading for their trials and tribulations and ultimate successes.

    • Kay in KCMO:

      Oh, and “What the Dog Saw” is fascinating.

  • Martha in Kansas:

    Great! I was needing something new to read. Just finished the Mennonite book, but have to go back and re-read the description of her husband. There’s something oddly familiar there and I’m wondering if The Farmer could be somewhat like him.

    I still have the Williamsburg book for you and now have one written by an old country doctor (horse & buggy) that I’m sure you’d enjoy torturing the CD with.

  • nanne:

    the visual vamp posted a tour of julia’s home on her blog this week.

    • Rechelle:

      Thanks Nanne! I added a link to the post.