Read, Share, Renovate
What: Read & Share, featuring House Lessons
WHEN: Programs take place Sept. 16-Nov. 3
Cost: Free; the book is available in print, audiobook and eBook from your local library
Wednesday, September 15, 2021
Erica Bauermeister didn’t plan on falling head over heels for a 92-year-old house crammed with decades of debris, but when she and her husband happened upon the Victorian wreck in Port Townsend during a Sunday sojourn to the Olympic Peninsula in the late 1990s, she knew she had to have it—even though it wasn’t actually for sale at the time.
In House Lessons: Renovating a Life—this year’s Whatcom County Library System pick for its third annual Read & Share program—readers soon find out that it took a while for Bauermeister’s love to be reciprocated. After finally convincing the heirs of the “four-bedroom wreck of a house” to sell and agreeing to clean up the considerable mess, reality set in when they finally made it through the front door.
“The piles appeared first,” Bauermeister writes. “Five-foot towers of boxes spread in a slowly disintegrating sprawl across the room, spilling old photos, hammers, pink Bibles, and patent leather shoes, like birdseed from a split bag.” In other rooms, they uncovered other unsettling clues about the dwelling’s last resident, a widower whose children had long since departed the nest.
Within the pages of House Lessons, Bauermeister shares the many hurdles that needed to be overcome to bring the crumbling structure back to a semblance of its former glory, something that was finally accomplished in 2002. She also discusses the differences between restoration, remodeling and renovation, and says they chose the latter because they wanted to uphold the character and history of the house while still anchoring it firmly in the present.
In the memoir, the restoration isn’t limited to a new foundation, double-pane windows and a kitchen restructuring. By working to understand what the house was trying to teach her, Bauermeister’s relationship with her husband and two kids improved, she found the confidence to move forward with her writing career and, along the way, discovered the difference between a house and a home.
House Lessons was chosen by WCLS staff members for the countywide book club when they were primarily working from home offices. The COVID-19 pandemic had brought to light how spaces affect us and the value of building things to last, and the bestselling author’s account of her personal renovation encompassed a variety of themes they felt would resonate with readers.
A glance through the virtual Read & Share programs that begin Sept. 16 and continue through Nov. 3 reveals a variety a topics that examine the concept of home. Register to discuss issues concerning homelessness with the Whatcom County Coalition to End Homelessness (Sept. 16); find out more about “Historic Barns in Whatcom County” with photographer Jeff Barclay and architectural historian Michael Hauser (Sept. 23); or join sociologist and author Michelle Janning to discuss “What Your Home Says About the World” (Sept. 30). In October, find out more about Nooksack Tribe’s land and history, the gentrification of rural Washington, Whatcom County’s historical places, and hear poetry exploring family history through the lens of a home.
Next month, Bauermeister will also be interviewed by WCLS Collection Services Manager Lisa Gresham, read from and discuss the memoir during a book talk, and lead a two-day primer on how to “Jump Start Your Memoir.”
Bauermeister noted that after the events of 2020, we’re all going through a psychological reevaluation, a topic that will likely come up during the free workshop.
“The issues are larger than a single home renovation,” she says. “We are taking stock of who we are, and who we want to be.”