A Wonderful Book Find – Sheetrock & Shellac – A Thinking Person’s Guide to the Art and Science of Home Improvement

Every once in a while I discover a book that I just love. Finding a new book that I can add to my list of books I love is always an unexpected treat. I savor reading my new find and I don’t want the book to end. It is such a delicious pleasure.

We just got back from  a trip to the Bay Area then to LA and then back to the Bay Area and then back to Reno. Last Monday we took a truck load of stuff from Union City to LA where one of Duke’s daughter’s is going back to school. We helped her find an apartment and move in. On Thursday we drove back to the Bay Area. We loaded up another truck load of our stuff, got rid of our storage locker and headed back to Reno. We are going to be here in Reno in our new house for a while now. It is exciting to finally be settling in.

But back to my wonderful book. I read the whole book on our trip and I loved it. The book is Sheetrock & Shellac – A Thinking Person’s Guide to the Art and Science of Home Improvement by David Owen. The title does a good job of describing the book but it didn’t prepare me for the laugh out loud humor or for how many interesting things I learned by reading it. I love David Owen’s wonderful ability to make everything from the history of the history of the toilet to all about backhoes fascinating. His skill with the English language reminded me of William F. Buckley’s books about sailing. Buckley wrote three sailing books; Airborne, Atlantic High, and Racing through Paradise. Whether or not you know anything about sailing they are a joy to read. Sheetrock & Shellac is the same. I have done very little home improvement but I don’t think it would matter if I had  never held a hammer. I think I still would have loved this book.

Sheetrock and Shellac is based on the authors experiences renovating his house and building a cabin. It contains a lot of his own story. For example:

"I built myself an office, in the master bedroom of the former apartment on the third floor…… I vividly remember the moment when I started the project. It was late at night and I was watching TV. Suddenly, my desire to build something serious became overpowering….. I put down my drink, loaded my tools into a canvas bag, carried the bag up to the third floor, and began, very quietly, to demolish an old plaster wall, in which deep cracks shaped like cartoon lightening bolts stretched from the ceiling to the floor. Carefully, I wedged the claw end of the hammer into one of the cracks; carefully, I pried off a piece of plaster the size of a chocolate chip cookie; carefully I caught the plaster cookie in my other hand, so that it wouldn’t ht the floor. I was trying very hard not to make too much noise because my kids were asleep one floor below. Yet I was so excited about building my office that before beginning I hadn’t bothered to cover the room’s freshly made bed or to remove some recently dry-cleaned clothes that were hanging in the closet. ( I did take a moment to close the closet door.)"

Sheetrock and Shellac also contains a lot of fascinating information about a lot of diverse things, hence the name. Here is an example from the section on shellac:

"Shellac is made from a natural resin, called lac, which is the only commercially valuable resin that is produced by an animal. (All other natural resins – rosin, amber, mastic, and dammar among them – are produced by plants; most synthetic resins, including the ones in  most plastics, are derived from petroleum."

I guess you can tell that I highly recommend this book. According to the dust jacket Owen is a staff writer for The New Yorker and has written a dozen previous books. I think I’ll go find another one of his books to read next.