Like many people, I have dreams of buying and restoring an old, run-down mansion and impressing my family and friends with the craftsmanship and obvious hard work I put into it. I also love memoirs of any kind, so I was excited to hear about a book combining the two - I could vicariously experience both someone else’s life, and their adventures restoring a house? Oh, and there are pictures? Sold.
Ron Tanner’s new book, From Animal House to Our House: A Love Story recounts the story of him buying a three story Queen Anne Victorian at the beginning of a relationship and the saga of restoring it. As the title suggests, the house was formerly home to a fraternity, Delta Upsilon (or as their graffiti proclaims, “DUH”) who destroyed the row house in only ten years. Throughout the restoration, Ron maintained a blog cataloguing the process.
You might be tempted to think that the blog tells the whole story. I mean, what could be worse than rooms with amateur graffiti? Or full of garbage? Sadly for Ron, but luckily for readers like myself, there is a lot more woe in restoring the house that doesn’t appear on the blog and makes for a great narrative in a memoir. Lead poisoning, unreliable contractors, baby rats and back injuries all make an appearance.
Fortunately, Ron wasn’t alone in this endeavor: as he writes in his story, he bought the house partially to insure his relationship with his girlfriend of six months, Jill. The love story within Animal House is an interesting complement to other renovation tales.
As someone who reads a lot of house stories, I’m much more familiar with accounts of home renovation as a form of empowerment after a break-up than as a love story. Think Under the Tuscan Sun, the kind of cheesy and wonderful movie with Diane Lane (also based on a book) where she moves to Italy after her divorce and restores a villa. Or Megan Daum’s Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived in That House where she searches for a house to fix up in order to affirm her independence – the absence of a relationship is an important part of establishing a home in both stories.
Ron and Jill end up tackling the house from two totally different standpoints, which is a source of contention. However, in this love story featuring a couple and a house, all three parties end up together. It’s an unconventional look at the balance between "yours" and "mine" in a relationship, and the challenges of planning for a future when you haven’t even talked about it. I mean, imagine dating someone and trying to persuade them to move into and work on your abandoned and gutted row house. Or just read about it, since that's exactly what Ron did (successfully).
As we discovered in the Preservation Books Twitter Chat earlier this month, there aren't a ton of popular preservation books on the market. Let Animal House be an entry into the hopefully growing canon of preservation literature!