Book Reviews Books for Adults Non-fiction

Homeward Bound: Why Women Are Embracing the New Domesticity by Emily Matchar

A high school friend of mine, Ashley, wrote a really interesting post about trying to figure out her employment situation after her three children were all in full-time school, and she referenced this book.

Well, I cannot read about a book on this topic without immediately requesting it from the library.

And, of course, I cannot read a book like Homeward Bound without forcing everyone I come in contact with to listen to me ramble on at length about it.

My poor friend, Celeste, who foolishly offered to carpool with me to a church event and had to listen to me talk about it for twenty minutes there and then another twenty minutes home. She will likely not make that mistake again.

Also, I feel like I have to say that just because I ENJOY a book, doesn’t necessarily mean I agree with all of it. Sometimes the books I like reading the most are ones where the point of view is wildly different and even directly contradictory to my own. Some of this book made me say, “Yes! Definitely!” while other parts made me think, “hmm, I vehemently disagree with you.”

Five paragraphs later. . . .

Homeward Bound explores the movement of people (mainly women) back to more labor-centric hobbies and lifestyles, whether that means cooking everything from scratch, starting an Etsy business, homeschooling, gardening on a serious level, or living off the grid.

Matchar discusses what kinds of things push people toward this – a poor economy, unfulfilling jobs, distrust of government systems, bored women staying at home with small children, the general trendiness of all things domestic – and shares tons of anecdotes about people on the whole spectrum, whether they are completely self-sufficient or whether they periodically can some tomatoes they bought at the farmer’s market.

A couple of things that stood out to me (you’re looking at this list and thinking, “I don’t believe she knows what “a couple” actually means”):

  • What’s the cost to society as a whole if you opt-out of the system (for instance, homeschooling your children, which deprives the local school of your influence and involvement, or opting out of a career as a woman, which can make it more difficult for other women to advance in professional fields, or refusing vaccinations for your own children because of the risk, depending on everyone ELSE’s vaccinated children to keep your child from dying of whooping cough)? Bart and I talked about this at length – it’s such a fascinating and relevant dilemma. 
  • It’s interesting to see how extremes on both sides of the spectrum start looking very similar in many ways. Both groups might be growing all their own food, opting out of the “system” in various ways, and rejecting traditional paths, but doing it for completely opposite reasons. (I tried to explain this to Bart and I did a horrible job, so. . .read the book and see what I’m talking about because I’ve probably completely botched it here too). 
  • There is a huge difference between growing a huge garden, sewing all your own clothing, and making soap when you GET to choose that and doing it because you have no other options. 
  • It’s fascinating to see how MUCH effort people are willing to put forward when they are strongly committed to their lifestyles. I kind of needed a nap after reading about some of these people (and I wanted to say, “Did you know there are stores that sell peanut butter? And you can just give them money for it?”) 
  • Etsy is making a boat load of money on people selling things through their platform. 
  • Many corporate careers today are just not very flexible or fulfilling, so the appeal of a slower, more engaging way of making a living is understandable. 
  • I do think it’s much easier to be a stay-at-home mom when you have a social outlet that keeps you from feeling so isolated (but then, I’m comparing it to nothing because I’ve NEVER been a stay-at-home mom without a blog and a Twitter account). 
  • Fine. I want chickens in my backyard too, someday (but I’ll make Ella deal with them because she loves animals and birds of any sort freak me right out). 

I’d definitely put this book more into the “thought-provoking and discussion-worthy” category, rather than the “best-book-I-ever-read” category.

I found the chapters to kind of blend together. I’d read one and then two chapters later think, “Wait, how is this different from the chapter I read yesterday?” It kind of all muddles together and there is a lot of overlap and repetition. I definitely think it could have been edited down quite a bit.

I felt like there were many MANY generalizations (yes, I recognize you can’t write a book without making some, but. . . there seemed to be a lot here).

And, I didn’t find the author particularly unbiased. It seemed fairly clear to me that she was more a fan of “real” careers than choosing to stay-at-home, whether that was to raise your children or to grow kale in your backyard to sell at the farmer’s market.

If I still lived in Texas and was part of my beloved bookclub, this would very likely be my choice for 2014, mainly because I would LOVE to hear what those 11 other women who are smart, well-educated, and have a variety of different family and professional situations thought about the whole thing. I can only imagine it would have been a very interesting discussion.

Instead, I’ll have to just ponder it on my own while my children eat some locally-sourced Lucky Charms for breakfast (vacation food, I’ll have you know. I don’t usually feed them marshmallow cereal for breakfast).

Copy checked out from my local library

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  • Reply smalldog December 5, 2013 at 12:09 pm

    Great thoughts. I remember reading several articles on the subject not too long ago (very probably the seeds of this book) and, like you, having some seriously mixed thoughts about the idea of the new domesticity. But I'm pretty much a professional contrarian 😉

  • Reply RA December 5, 2013 at 2:29 pm

    I read about this book and found the concept intriguing, and I think your takeaway about the difference choosing to do things by hand or from scratch versus doing that by necessity is huge. I wish my library had this in audio; it sounds like a great candidate for shouting rebuttals to nobody during my commute.

  • Reply girlseeksplace December 5, 2013 at 6:18 pm

    Interesting. As a single 30-something who doesn't currently have plans for marriage or kids, but will not judge you in the least for what you choose to do, I find the premise of homemaking and domesticity fascinating. There are so many different forms of those things. It's not just women who are staying home, but now dads are getting into the stay at home thing (or working from home). Families come in dozens of different forms, blood relatives or not. My family is my family and my friends are my family. I'm looking forward to reading this one.

  • Reply Audrey December 5, 2013 at 7:12 pm

    Janssen, the next time you need a ride, call me….I'd love to have this discussion anytime. The feminist in me doesn't want to read this book. At the same time, I AM a stay at home mother who gardens, composts, cooks, cleans, etc. I know it's relevant. Let's just say I'm intrigued….. (Currently reading The Worst Hard Time. Have you read it? It's fascinating!)

  • Reply Stephanie December 5, 2013 at 8:54 pm

    Oh man. I read this book and has the same reaction. I wanted everyone to read it so someone would talk about it with me. Like you, I found the ideas fascinating even if I didn't agree with all of them. And the author did not have enough material to make a full-length book. (It was, after all, based on her infamous "I'm obsessed with Mormon Mommy bloggers article from Salon a few years ago.) I wish she had done more research on some of her ideas to beef up the text. But overall, such fascinating material.

  • Reply Stephanie December 5, 2013 at 8:54 pm

    Please ignore the typos. Please.

  • Reply Tina's Blog December 5, 2013 at 9:31 pm

    I bought this one for my kindle when I first heard about it- and sadly, it is still waiting to be read on my kindle. Maybe someday….

  • Reply Erica December 5, 2013 at 9:48 pm

    I didn't realize that this was the same woman who wrote that Salon article – now I have to read, if for no other reason than to get in a debate with a book.

  • Reply heidikins December 5, 2013 at 11:03 pm

    "There is a huge difference between growing a huge garden, sewing all your own clothing, and making soap when you GET to choose that and doing it because you have no other options." YES! This!

    I feel this way about so many things: buying organic food, going on a juice cleanse, having the choice to stay home and raise babies, the ability to take college courses during the day instead of at night after work. Yes, there is probably a "best case" scenario for all of those things, but the costs can be prohibitive to vast swaths of the population, and I wish more people realized that. (i.e. is it SO MUCH CHEAPER to feed a family of 4 dinner via McDonald's than via Whole Foods and the farmer's market; it is SO MUCH EASIER to be involved in college courses, study groups, and professor's office hours when you are on campus from 9am-1pm with less than 15 hours of work per week instead of on campus from 6pm-9pm with a regular day job from 8-5 every day.)

    Fascinating stuff. #economicsmajor #7yearsofnightclasses

  • Reply JoLee December 6, 2013 at 1:57 am

    This book certainly sounds like it would make for a great discussion. I read Ashley's blog post too. I have to thank you for linking that up. I really relate to her whole "bored out my brains" homemaker discussion, and I feel like I'm surrounded by a whole bunch of happy homemakers. I think it's, in part, this whole New Domesticity movement, and all these women I know who are sewing and cooking and crafting, and I just don't enjoy that stuff. I mean, I don't hate cooking, but it doesn't fulfill me. Thankfully, I am able to teach a couple college classes every semester and perhaps someday that will translate into a bigger thing.

  • Reply Kristin @ Going Country December 6, 2013 at 12:25 pm

    I read this after I saw it on your "what I'm reading now" list (thanks again!). I enjoyed reading it and recognized myself in a lot of the anecdotes; not so much in the author's viewpoints. I found myself defensive for a large part of the book, because her tone comes through pretty clearly that she is firmly in the NOT domestic camp.

    My lifestyle is pretty far to the extreme side of what she (and I suspect you) thinks is too labor-intensive and unnecessary. I won't go into my own reasons for why I do all these things, but the point is that there are SO MANY reasons and SO MANY varieties of domesticity that that kind of generalizing drives me crazy.

    I still enjoyed reading it, but mostly because I enjoy arguing in my head as I read.

  • Reply Creole Wisdom December 6, 2013 at 4:12 pm

    oh, I'll be reading that in 2014. I sometimes struggle with this movement because I find it frustrating that people are claiming "living a creative life and doing what they love from home" when in fact their husband is the one carrying their health insurance, making sure the savings account is still growing, and being there if the Etsy sales fall through. I also agree that it takes a level of start up wealth to really be able to do that, and there's a huge difference between making soap because it's fun and making soap because you need to.

  • Reply Amanda December 7, 2013 at 1:07 pm

    My interest is piqued – I'll add it to my to-read list. This'll probably be one of those books I'm disagreeing with out loud and my husband will be like, tell me again why you're reading this? haha 🙂

  • Reply Kate @ Another Clean Slate December 8, 2013 at 5:04 am

    I'm suggested my book club reads this next- thanks for the recommendation!

  • Reply Jamie December 16, 2013 at 4:41 am

    As soon as I started reading this review, I thought, 'Wow, this would make a great pick for our book group',and sure enough you thought so too! Maybe I'll pick it in your honor! I love discussing things like this, but I find myself going back and forth on which side I most relate to, so it can be tortuous. Looking forward to reading it!

  • Reply Amanda Mustafic December 17, 2013 at 10:02 pm

    Great thoughts. I'm definitely intrigued – it seems like the kind of book that would inspire A LOT of discussion in my book club, and among my more feminist friends. Thanks for sharing!

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