Tuesday, June 24, 2008

America At Home

One of my favorite books, both as a spiritual journey story, and as a stunning collection of photographs is "From Alice to Ocean". It is the true story of a woman, Robyn Davidson, deciding to cross Australia by herself, with her dog and four camels. The inner journey of child-like joy and exuberance at the beginning of the story, turning into wondering, suffering and confusion until exhaustion and gratitude finally enter her rebellious heart and allow her to discover a quiet, joyful peace by the time she reaches the ocean, is one of the ways the fundamental story of Here You Are can play itself out in a person's life. Her journey is captured in the photographs of well know photographer Rick Smolan.

So when I came across Rick Smolan and his wife Jennifer Erwitt's latest book - America At Home, I was naturally curious. At first glance America At Home is a wonderful collection of both stunning and wholesome photographs of American households and their inhabitants. Sponsored by IKEA - my children's favorite furniture company - America At Home turns out to have more depth than you would expect. Amusing, insightful and contemplative reflections are offered on the idea of what Home means to us by an impressive number of contributing writers who include famous author, Amy Tan, Matt Groening, creator of the Simpsons, and Dominique Browning, the former editor of House and Garden and other writers, who all reflect on our relationship to what we call Home.

The people in the occasional photographs of gay couples look as mundane, stressed out or happy as the rest of the domestic dwellers running after their children and pets, helping to dispel the stereotypical notion of strangeness associated with this lifestyle that doesn't look any different from anyone else's. If you are familiar with Smolan and Erwitt's Day of the Life series books, you know - we are all a bit strange. The stranger we all are, or try to be, the more we are the same - we're just Americans!

America At Home informs us about what's important to us. Kids, pets and spending money, it seems. Marriage, not so much. 35% of our children live in single or no parent homes, and even though 62% of us don't think money can buy happiness we spend 41 billion more than we earn on whatever it does buy. Most likely IKEA furniture. I know that is what my children spend a lot of their money on. The rest must be going for pets at 41 billion a year, as well as Netflix to watch the hard working celebrities who apparently live an average of 13 years less than us couch potatoes.

Since 85% of us do no exercise of any kind, you'll be surprised how many billions of dollars we spend each year on health clubs. Many more such statistics add to the overall impression of this fascinating book that will have you find yourself starting many "Did you know..." conversations, and leaving it on your coffee table for a conversation piece. This will be especially impressive if you get the custom cover jacket you can order featuring your very own - to quote Matt Groening - "kinda functional and kinda loopy" family!

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