Book Review: “The Big House”

When I initially started my summer vacation in early May, I was anticipating a lot of reading.  What’s happened in reality, however, is that I haven’t really done that much.  I’ve been busy between working at the ballpark and waitressing, and I forgot that I’m a painfully slow reader–I like to savor every word.

That being said, I am still reading, just at my own pace.  The first book I’ve finished this summer is George Howe Colt’s The Big House, which sounds like it’s about jail but isn’t.  It’s a charming memoir about his family’s 100-year-old summer home in Cape Cod.  Colt masterfully weaves tales of his ancestors and their “stiff upper lip” yet colorful Boston Brahmin lifestyle with his memories of spending summers at Buzzard’s Bay–all combined with the conflict his family faces with having to sell the Big House.

The book is divided into two parts.  The first deals mainly with family anecdotes and histories from Colt’s great-grandparents, to his father’s brothers and sisters.  The most interesting members of Colt’s family tree (in my opinion) is his great-grandfather, Edward Atkinson, and his colorful cast of siblings, referred to in the book as The At’s.  The second part of the book is about what Colt believes is his last summer in the Big House.  He combines his reflections on childhood and teenage summers there with the experiences of his children who are only just starting to discover the magic of the Big House.

I loved this book.  It was evident, even just in the first chapter, that is was very carefully and thoroughly researched by Colt.  He clearly put a lot of love into this book, and it shows.  Colt at times has mixed feelings towards his family, expressing love, bewilderment, shame, guilt and pity at different points; but it is beyond clear that the overall sentiment is love.  I enjoyed reading all of it, although some of the passages could get rather wordy, and sometimes the descriptions of Cape Cod or the house’s architecture felt rather like reading a research paper.

I think what I liked most about the book is that Colt’s remembrances of Cape Cod and the Big House remind me so much of my own summers in Maine with my family.  We may not have a towering Victorian beach house with 16 rooms like Colt; by comparison we stay at a six room cottage.  But we do have a lot of love for where we are…I wouldn’t trade it for anything!  I have spent almost every summer of my life coming to Maine, and the memories I have here are some of my most treasured.

Overall, I’d give the book a B+.  I’m taking off points for the overly-wordy sections.  Sometimes they’d put me right to sleep.

Up next for my summer reading? Home: A Memoir of My Early Years by Julie Andrews.  I’ve been reading it here and there when I can since January, but not that I’ve got a little more downtime with summer vacation, I’m going to finally finish it up.  I really like Julie’s writing style.  It’s like she’s having a conversation with you, and I can really hear her voice in my head.  To see all the other books I’m planning on reading this summer, just click on the “Summer Reading 2011” tab above!

Have you read The Big House? What did you think?  What’s on your summer reading list?

xoxo, Karoline

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4 Comments

  1. Short and sweet! Thanks for sharing..

    Reply
  2. Very nice review! I’m gonna see if B&N has the Nook version. I’d like to read it. Thanks for sharing. :)

    Reply
  3. Sue Zacharer

     /  July 5, 2011

    Great review Karoline. I am glad you enjoyed the book and got the comparison between our vacations and the Big House. I too love our time in Maine and wouldn’t trade them for anything. They too are some of my most treasured memories. Continue to enjoy the company of a good book.

    Reply
  1. Summer Reading: The summer of non-fiction « Karoline With a "K"

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