by Lizzy Manthe
It’s hard to build a library when you’re a renter. Shelf space can be scarce, especially if you have roommates. And if you move often, lugging cardboard boxes full of paperbacks gets old quick.
ABODO exists to help renters find their next apartment. But we’re big readers, as well. That’s why we’ve made this handy list of apartment-related books for the renter in all of us. So whether you’re looking to fill a small, manageable shelf, or you’re adding more books to your overloaded boxes, here are five recommendations from the ABODO bookshelf (which is not, unfortunately, built-in).
The Apartment, by Greg Baxter
Greg Baxter’s acclaimed 2012 novel takes place over the span of a single day, as an unnamed man searches for an apartment in an anonymous European city. The peregrinations of the day — from hotel to street, street to train, apartment to apartment — provide scaffolding for fascinating digressions into art, music, and history, both widescale (America’s presence in Iraq) and immediate (the man’s own past).
Life: A User’s Manual, by George Perec
At least one member of the ABODO team tried to read this novel in high school and was disappointed to find out it was not, in fact, instructions on how to live. He should have stuck with it: George Perec’s magnum opus is an engrossing (and occasionally infuriating) portrait of urban life, told through the inhabitants of one fictitious Paris apartment building. For over 600 pages, Perec tells the story of 11 rue Simon-Crubellier, one chapter per room. The cast of characters is wide, the sweep of time vast, and the sense of narrative play — Perec was a member of the French literary group OULIPO, which imposed various constraints to compose their literary work — infectious.
The Poetics of Space, by Gaston Bachelard
Keeping it French: Philosopher Gaston Bachelard’s eccentric meditation on the concept of interior space — home, room, closet, etc. — examines architecture as a shared human environment. Don’t expect a traditional history of architectural form, or an explanation of Corinthian versus Doric. Instead, Bachelard explores the ways we treat the spaces around us — and how they retain traces of our familial and emotional lives. It might sound airy or abstract or… difficult, but the writing is consistently witty and accessible, even if you never took Phenomenology 101. You’ll never look at a dresser drawer the same way again.
Billy Baldwin Decorates, by Billy Baldwin
No, not that Baldwin. Billy Baldwin was an interior designer whose work from the 1930s to ‘70s helped free American interiors from 19th century fussiness. He famously designed apartments for Cole Porter, Paul Mellon, Diana Vreeland, and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, and his aesthetic — eclectic, art-centric, and personable — has become a hallmark of American decorating. It’s also a much-needed antidote to bland Life-Changing Magic of Tidying-induced minimalism. (Seriously, how many more blank white walls, blond wood, Edison bulbs, and succulents do we need?). Baldwin’s taste was eccentric, and at heart he believed that a room should reflect the personality of its owner. In addition to charmingly dated photos of his interiors, Billy Baldwin Decorates includes advice about how to develop your own decorating eye, in bite-sized chapters like “What to Make of a Wall” and “Avoiding the Unhappy Medium.” Although some of his advice might prove outside of your price range — one of the photographs in his book is of a couch upholstered in the same pattern as the original Matisse hanging above it — that’s part of the fun.
Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, by Matthew Desmond
Matthew Desmond’s analysis of eviction in low-income communities is heartbreaking, insightful, and incisive. In a country where more people than ever before are spending over half their income on rent, once-rare evictions are now a depressingly common occurrence. Desmond’s book is the product of years of fieldwork and follows eight Milwaukee families and the landlords who evict — or threaten to evict — them from their homes. It’s a bracing, impeccably researched snapshot of failed urban policy, and a moving portrait of the men, women, and children caught up in it.