Book One - Home Comforts: The Art & Science of Keeping House by Cheryl Mendelson
What a wonderful book! Mendelson sets the tone in the preface:
"When you keep house, you use your head, your heart, and your hands together to create a home - the place where you live the most important part of your private life. Housekeeping is an art . . . It is also a science . . ."
Mendelson is an attorney and professor who grew up on a farm in Pennsylvania. She writes in an entertaining style and obviously loves her subject. The book combines insights, history, and step-by-step instructions for all aspects of housekeeping - it's a great read and reference for both novices and experts. It will become your go-to book when you have a pesky carpet stain or buy a new piano or wonder what laws apply to you at home. But, it's more than just a reference; it shows how every member of your household will benefit by certain routines (like sharing meals), why a few minutes tidying up before you go to work will greatly increase your sense of well-being when you come home, why your grandmothers may have been right to air the beds outside, and much more.
I've had my copy for almost 10 years and in addition to reading it cover-to-cover (it's that good, but then I also like to read cookbooks . . .) it's an invaluable reference and it makes an outstanding house warming or shower gift. One of the many things that caught my attention when I first read Home Comforts was Mendelson's discussions about dish towels. At the time I was a frequent business traveler and started buying lots of dish towels to bring home. As our 19th-century kitchen does not have a dish washer (we opted for storage instead!) we use lots of dish towels so I don't feel like it's a total splurge to add yet another to my stash.
If you've made it this far in my long post, I owe it to you not to drone on and on about the joys of dish towels, but honestly they are fun. Cotton and linen are the best - they absorb the most and don't leave lint and there are so many designs - for a while I was focusing on teapots, maps, and calendars. See the Spaghetti one in the bottom corner? A friend brought it to me from Italy recently and it's really nice for two reasons (besides the fact that someone took the trouble to buy it and bring it back): 1) it was purchased from the embroiderer and, 2) the design is on one side rather than the middle - so you don't have to fold it in thirds. The needlework is really amazing, here's a peep at the back:
So that's the story of the first book recommendation, plus some of the reasons that I am hooked on dish towels. If you want to add to your stash of towels, online auctions and tag sales are a great source. Look for vintage Ulster Linens that still have the tags on, or embroidered towels with your initials, or touristy ones from places you've visited . . . well, you get the idea!
Check back tomorrow for Book Two.