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Book details search for a perfect house

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Associated Press

“LIFE WOULD BE PERFECT IF I LIVED IN THAT HOUSE,” by Meghan Daum, Alfred A. Knopf, 256 pages, $24.95

This timely memoir captures a Los Angeles Times columnist's restless need to find the perfect place of her own, before the free-falling housing market turned the real estate dreams of many Americans into nightmares of "home moanership."

Well before the economy soured, Meghan Daum was obsessed with securing the letter-perfect pad, thinking that with the right address, an ideal life would somehow magically fall into place for her.

Spoiler alert! It doesn't happen, not even after the giddy thrill of spending nearly all her hard-earned savings in 2004 to secure a 900-square-foot bungalow in the Echo Park area of Los Angeles with a garage that "bore a close resemblance to the ruins of Pompeii."

But before putting money in escrow in her mid-30s, Daum had plenty of real estate flings, continuously coupled with a nagging malaise. There were all those open houses she went to as a child, the string of dissatisfying dorm rooms in college, the fixation over a prewar Manhattan apartment that somehow morphed into a mania for a farmhouse on a windswept prairie.

Here's how she distills her zeal for real estate in the prologue: "It's the story of how I came to care more about owning a house than committing to a partner or doing my job or even the ostensibly obvious fact that the sun would rise and set regardless of whether my name was on a mortgage."

Even the briefest of glances at a home decor magazine or HGTV — a home and gardening TV channel where granite kitchen countertops and "open concept" living rooms are spoken about with animated reverence — will make clear that Daum is far from alone.

She vividly recalls how her housing compulsions and all their accompanying fantasies repeatedly had her riding a crazy-making pendulum.

What makes it all work is that Daum happens to be a fine writer — candid, reflective, stylish, fun and a bit prickly. Throughout the book, she offers an unflinching portrayal of her anxieties and her aspirations.

Here's how she describes the eros of real estate: "Like a new lover, a new house opens a floodgate of anticipation and trepidation and terrifying expectations fused with dreamy distractions. ... Granted, you're buying curtains and dish drainers and wastebaskets instead of getting manicures and buying lingerie, but the adrenaline rush is shockingly similar: You close your eyes at night and see only your new kitchen; you meet your friends for lunch and can speak only of your closet space."

When she finally realizes that a house is not what will make her whole, you can't help but breathe a sigh of relief.