The House That Made Me, edited by Grant Jarrett, is a book of essays by 19 contemporary writers who were prompted to look at Google Earth and find their childhood homes, then write about how those homes shaped their writing today. On paper, this is a grand idea. Many of the writers describe life altering moments and poignant snapshots from their childhoods to lead the reader through personal family tragedies, joys and triumphs, as well as their accomplishments as writers.
In each story, the home is definitely used as the backdrop, and it either starts to brighten or darken the writer’s landscape for the future. Most of the essays begin with a shout out to Google (I wish they hadn’t). Some of the writers do provide vivid portrayals of their childhoods–these portrayals definitely made me want to go out and find their other written works. But just as many took the assignment too literally and focused on – surprise, surprise – the Google Earth portrayal of their home. I admit that I too have tracked my current and former homes on Google. It was fun, sure. Learning about someone’s childhood home can be fascinating, but not if the focus is on the literal view of the home today (who cares?).
We read about a writer who climbed his roof to learn of the world and was shaken by the space shuttle disasters. There is another writer who shares a Canadian home through Google Earth with her son. There are those deeply affected by their moves as children from one home to another, a writer from 1960s Chicago who escaped a difficult life, and writers who grew up in other countries with stories of their own to tell. At the end of the book are the photos and biographies of all the writers who contributed to the essays, and many of them are accomplished and well worth following up on.
I’d recommend this book to anyone interested in learning a little about the writing process, and more about the specific writers who participated in the compilation. As a side note, the last time I checked, Google was still showing a white in-ground rusty basketball hoop that fell down in a storm over 15 years ago at my house. Are those Google images updated yearly, or are they supposed to be updated on a weekly basis? There I go again…focusing more on Google than the essays…
After a decade of working in several NYC law departments and teaching, Poppy decided she enjoyed writing full-time. She currently works as a freelance writing consultant, and lives with her husband and sons on the East Coast.
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