Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir
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Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir

3.75 of 5 stars 3.75  ·  rating details  ·  376 ratings  ·  62 reviews
This is an exquisitely realized and wholly original memoir of growing up in blue-collar 1950s Lakewood, California, the quintessential post-World War II American suburb and the prototype for the countless tract developments that would follow. At once a portrait of the author's coming of age, as well as a history of Lakewood, Holy Land is about the way places shape lives. I...more
Hardcover, 180 pages
Published May 7th 1997 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published 1996)
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a loving defense of suburbia. it's written in strange short chapters that go from light to dark to easy to complex fast. it's hard on the stomach that way, but the very last paragraph makes it all worthwhile, and reading that chapter is like the moment you make out a magic eye picture (anyone else remember those?)
Vince Potenza
Like Waldie, I grew up in the 1950s in a "development" that months before we moved in was farmland - "truck farms" was what they used to call them - only it was on the south shore of Long Island instead of outside of Los Angeles. All the houses were exactly the same. There were kids everywhere - no house on our street had less than two and one had as many as seven. Just about everybody was either Catholic or Jewish, and white. There was a Chinese family on our street - the Chans, who had five da...more
Eric Bjerke
This is a cool little book. I like books that I can mow through quickly and finish in a night. Didn't quite finish this one, but it will take only 30 mins. to do so. I wish it had more pictures and that the pictures had captions. It is about my birthplace, Lakewood, CA. I didn't know that Lakewood was the second oldest planned suburban area in history. We have all heard of Levittown on Long Island, well, Lakewood came a few years later, was bigger, and had the first shopping mall. Lakewood Mall...more
Holy or not, I definitely cursed this book to hell. Waldie's prose is as unimaginative as the grid of the city he writes about. If I understand the idea of this book correctly ‒ an exploration of how the place one lives in shapes one's life ‒ there definitely is something wrong in its execution. Waldie prides himself on 'telling stories', the stories of the suburb he lives in. However, he devotes large parts of the book to the history of Lakewood's construction, including more numbers than narra...more
Dustin Hanvey
Excellent poetic-novel mix that provides a biography/ history of Lakewood, CA, one of the first modern style suburbs in America. In the process, Waldie exposes the ways in which most of us live today help create our ways of being, interacting, and connecting with people around us. He also incorporates the spiritual aspects of place and how they shaped him and his family. I learned a lot about Los Angeles history and how my own suburb has become a sort of "holy land" for my family.
This is a book that has stayed with me through the years. I lost my copy along the way and recently purchased it again. I hope it's as good as I remember.

Waldie lays out the story like the suburban grid of his home town of Lakewood, California. The structure of the book adds to uniformity he grew up with. It's perfect for the ADD reader, like myself.
I wanted more Lakewood stories & less angsty Catholic family shit. Basically, I want to talk about buildings all day long rather than feelings.
Susan Eubank
Here are the questions we discussed at the Reading the Western Landscape Book Club at the Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden.

• Why does the author juxtapose the almost non-personal tales of his life with the very detailed history of Lakewood and its land?
• What was your favorite Lakewood fact?
• Did this story resonant with any of your childhood memories?
• How did the format of the book affect your reading of it?
• What do the chapter numbers mean?
• How did his Catholicism and the...more
"Before they put a grid over it, and restrained the ground from indifference, any place was as good as any other" (Waldie, pg. #3).

"In the municipal code book in the city clerk's office are fifteen pages of ordinances about property maintenance, nuisance abatement, clearing sidewalks, and covering garbage cans. […] The city with its codes cannot make Mr. H a good citizen" (Waldie, pg. #20).

"The streets in my city are a fraction of a larger grid, anchored to one in Los Angeles. That grid was laid...more
Clever little book. Not sappy, not nostalgic. In a no-nonsense style, Waldie looks at the development of his suburb (the good, the bad, the hypocritical) in the late 40s-early 50s, as well as the developers themselves. He looks at how it is today--what has changed, what has not. Perhaps the accidental changes are the saddest and funniest (at the same time)--such as the Vietnam War Memorial.

I don't live in Lakewood. I live about 25 miles wnw. In a house built c1948, on a former bean field. The lo...more
In "Holy Land," Lakewood, California, official D.J. Waldie melds his city's history with that of his own family -- the two at times being almost one in the same -- and a history of post-World War II Southern California as a whole. In fact, the name Lakewood itself is left out of the book's body, appearing only in its acknowledgments and photo credits. Waldie does this on purpose, usually referring to Lakewood simply as "my city." Lakewood could be any Los Angeles suburb or even, to a lesser exte...more
DJ Waldie's poetic take on the original American suburb - Lakewood, California - is beautiful and precise. He grew up there, later returning to live, raise a family, and eventually work for years on the city council as the town turned to what most 40 year old suburbs do. Spotted with photos of the modernist grid, and reflection on the ironies of efficiency and the human imagination, the book is a mediation on the forms of living possible within those infinitely replicable spaces.

The beauty of th...more
Living in L.A. for nearly a decade, my only relation to Lakewood was that it butted up against Artesia, noted for its fine North Indian cuisine. So we would on occasion venture out from our hipster bungalow in Silverlake and head that way for food (the only thing, other than teaching jobs and "nature," that motivated us to drive such distances), and we would happen across and sometimes through the surreal desolation that is suburbia on the edge of Orange County. And we would wonder to god how an...more
"Middle-class homes are the homes of people who would not live here." (1)

"Daily life here has an inertia that people believe in." (11)

"The grid the Spanish colonel [Felipe de Neve] carried to the nonexistent Los Angeles in 1781 originally came from a book in the Archive of the Indies in Seville. The book prescribed the exact orientation of the streets, the houses, and the public places for all the colonial settlements in the Spanish Americas. That grid came from God." (22)

"Every map is a fiction...more
Grace Krilanovich
I figured as soon as I started reading this I would absorb it in one sitting. Well, almost (a weekend). What other adjectives can you contribute to the praise of DJ Waldie's artful meditation on the development of Lakewood, his city, that haven't already been chucked onto the heap? Holy Land is subtle, lyrical, multi-varied, personal, political and obsessive in it's preoccupation with measurements of all kinds. Every dimension of Lakewood -- descending from city to neighborhood, sub-tracts, hous...more
Paul Muench
Simple, haunting, unflinching look at one man's life in Lakewood, CA a suburb of Los Angeles. I came away from this book with a sense of the value in having simple yet affordable places for people to live and call their own. We get attached to places, no matter how banal. I could not put this book down and the style of this short book makes it easy to finish in a single sitting.
In terms of entertainment value, this book is rather dull. It take the form of a memoir - supposedly! But I found it surprisingly impersonal. On reflection, I think that the narrative style and the film of the book are both very interesting, particularly from a critical perspective, but I wouldn't recommend the book to someone for a relaxing weekend read!
Kelly Ferguson
Waldie describes his book as a memoir of place, but to me the 316 sections read more as an essay on the 1950s California suburb where he grew up. I've always been fascinated by concepts of house, home, and place. Holy Land examines how the decisions of investors and city planners reflect the American culture of the time, and how these people (white men) had such a role in determining the culture of the future. I loved his fascination with measurements, and how decisions over the length of a stre...more
Sep 28, 2010 Jennie rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Jennie by: Randy
Shelves: poetry, memoir
This book is one of those that is hard to define. Part poetry, part memoir, at times concise and lyrical, Waldie describes his hometown so well I can almost see it. One thing I wish the author or editor had done would have been to organize the sections/essays/poems in a chronological fashion - I kept looking back and checking names and details, getting the feeling I had read some of it before. But a wonderful story, recommended for anyone living in a suburb, especially a Californian one.
Hank Stuever
One of the most thoughtful and personal books ever written about the making of (physically and emotionally) an American suburb, by someone who lived in it all his life. I first read it in 1997 and I still re-read it often, just to marvel at it. It somehow gets at the essence of family, community and faith, while remaining a very observant and even critical look at how we lived, and still live, in our own little world of suburbs, until we move on to better suburbs.
Glen Creason
Beautifully written and insightful on many levels. Probably the best book of its kind ever written. A history of a suburban town doesn't seem fascinating on the surface but Waldie takes the reader deep into his own suburban soul and juxtaposes the history of a unique settlement with the realization of the American dream in Southern California. It's brave in it self-examination and wonderfully researched.
This book is broken up into hundreds of little sections, like mini essays or prose poems, written in straightforward journalistic style but with poetic timing. They simultaneously tell the story of Waldie's parents, his family's life in the suburbs, and the intersecting histories of suburbia, Los Angeles, and the US. It's amazing what he's able to pull off here. Even the geological details are moving.
This is the story of how Lakewood, CA (the city directly across the street from my house) was developed just after WWII. The writing was all over the place - part history lesson, part personal memoir. I would have enjoyed it more had it focused less on the soil composition part and more on the personal stories of the first people to live in one of the first mass planned communities in the United States.
The format itself a metaphor --small, numbered paragraphs like a huge neighborhood of little ticky-tacky houses and each house containing lives and stories. Still, too many facts about suburban development and not enough memoir. But whata memoir -- disturbing, concise, haunting stuff. I returned to goodreads to rescore, from 3 stars to 4, because I could not stop thinking about it.
Grant Markin
Proof that any subject can be fascinating when well written.
Two favorite passages from this book:

"The critics of suburbs say that you and I live narrow lives.
I agree. My life is narrow.
From one perspective or another, all our lives are narrow. Only when lives are placed side by side do they seem larger." (p. 94)

"It is unlawful to tell the future in my city." (p. 158)
Kathleen Mickelson
Actually stalled out near the end of this one. Interesting structure to the book - extremely short choppy chapters, which makes reading it in bites easier. A lot of facts about the growth of Los Angeles suburban neighborhoods. Anyone who grew up in the 'burbs in the last half of the 20th century might find some truth here.
Honestly, the format was a little too weird for my taste, but since I had to read it for school, I didn't find much interest in it. I get the underlying principles, but it just wasn't very exciting (it's not meant to be, so it makes sense that it wasn't). It was a good incite into the California of the 1950's.
David Allen
An odd little book made up of 316 "essays," none over a page long, many only a paragraph or two, about Lakewood, the Levittown of California and an anonymous suburb to which few would have taken notice, and about his family history. Dignified and graceful, albeit slighter than expected for a book so celebrated.
An odd book, made up of over 300 short verbal snapshots of Lakewood, California, one of the first post-WW II suburbs. The snapshots are of its history, memories of childhood growing up there, , planning, shopping centers, etc. and achieve a kind of randomness that gives you the feel of living in a suburb.
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“You are mistaken if you consider this a criticism, either of my father or the houses.” 1 likes
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