Saturday, November 26, 2011

Review: A Carpenter's Life by Larry Haun

I wish I’d known Larry Haun.  From his writing he comes across as one of those spry, sometimes cranky, remarkably ageless carpenters you meet from time to time who love their work and understand the deeper meaning of their craft.  Best of all, his passion was for creating durable, practical housing.  Not McMansions.  Not ego-castles.  Just shelter, a basic human need.

Here’s the purpose of the book in Larry’s own words:

I can’t help but wonder about the relationship between people and their homes.  How do these vastly different dwelling places affect the people who live there?  How have I been shaped by the houses I’ve lived in?  Who and what would I be if I’d been born in an upscale mansion or a shack by the river? 

His knowledge of practical housing came first hand.  In western Nebraska his mother grew up in a sod house and later taught in a straw bale school.  Larry worked as a production framer in the 1950’s tract housing boom in Los Angeles at a time when production framing was just being invented.

Larry avoids the cult of exquisite wood craft.  He used power saws and drywall and makes no apology.  At the same time he cares about sustainability and green values while laughing at the self-canceling concept of a 10,000 square foot house that was certified “green.”

In A Carpenter’s Life he discusses twelve houses in twelve chapters, from his mother’s “soddy” to the quonset huts he built during World War Two to post-war tract houses to Habitat for Humanity houses to his own small, simple house in which he raised a large family.  Most interesting are his personal experiences with each form of construction.  Least interesting are his occasional sustainable ecology rants, which become a bit too frequent near the end of the book.  Not that I disagree with him.  It’s just that if you’re reading his book, most likely you’re already among the converted.

Larry Haun
There are photos and drawings, but this is not a glossy book about glossy houses.  If you’re seeking a holiday gift for a non-glossy carpenter (and, ahem, you’ve already given my own book Clear Heart), you might give A Carpenter’s Life.  I doubt if it’s in many stores.  I ordered my copy through Amazon, and here’s a link if you want to do the same.

For more information, there’s a glowing review of the book here in the New York Times.

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