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Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir

3.74  ·  Rating details ·  793 ratings  ·  105 reviews
Since its publication in 1996, Holy Land has become an American classic. In "quick, translucent prose" (Michiko Kakutani, New York Times) that is at once lyrical and unsentimental, D. J. Waldie recounts growing up in Lakewood, California, a prototypical post-World War II suburb. Laid out in 316 sections as carefully measured as a grid of tract houses, Holy Land is by turns ...more
Paperback, 208 pages
Published April 17th 2005 by W. W. Norton Company (first published 1996)
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Average rating 3.74  · 
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 ·  793 ratings  ·  105 reviews

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May 07, 2014 rated it did not like it
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
Jul 28, 2007 rated it really liked it
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?) ...more
Vince Potenza
Jul 09, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 31, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir, history
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
Nov 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
4.5 stars.
The most captivating element of D. J. Waldie’s memoir “Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir” is its consummate sense of place. That said, his writing style may not be for everyone.
Waldie was the public information officer for the city of Lakewood from 1981 to 2010. Lakewood, incorporated in 1954, was the West Coast’s largest and most ambitious experiment in a new model of living following World War II: the suburb. When a large swath of bean fields was subdivided into plots for 17,500 homes and
John Boyne
Mar 11, 2021 rated it liked it
Shelves: current-issues
A very interesting book on the creation of Lakewood, CA, which became a model of suburban development in the latter half of the 20th century. I felt the tone of the book was very depressing, which was something I was not expecting. The author appeared to portray suburban living as being primarily fake, unfulfilling, and hastily put together, which was how he described the way the early homes of Lakewood were built. I was hoping to read a narrative that provided details on the benefits of suburba ...more
Jun 19, 2020 rated it liked it
A 1996 memoir / history about the city of Lakewood, California, one of the first post-war suburbs built in the U.S. It's said to be remarkable as one of the few books about cookie-cutter American suburbs that is not harshly critical or ironic. It's not exactly nostalgic or glowing, but the writing is very simple and precise and sometimes veers into the spiritual. The book is less than 200 pages long, and is divided into 316 "chapters". The author said he had structured his book as a grid, simila ...more
Sandi Banks
Jun 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing
It is well written book of the author’s experience growing up in Los Angeles suburb of Lakewood. The author grew up there and still resides in the house he lived in with his parents. The home was built in the early 1950’s to help alleviate the housing storage of postwar California and also make for a few canny investors including Mark Taper wealthy.
The format of book with 316 short vignettes can be challenging at first but once i got into the flow I was intrigued by Waldie’s insight and informat
Jun 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir
Interesting sparse words about the author's community. He includes recollections of his family and the house in which they lived (and in which he still lives) along with a history of the area's development.

"From age six to thirteen, I spent part of nearly every day and nearly all summer in the company of my brother and other boys who lived in houses like mine.

The character of those seven years is what makes a suburban childhood seem like an entire life."
Feb 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: urbanism
Absolutely loved this laconic, lyrical memoir of growing up in Lakewood, CA, a quintessential example of the instant, mass produced suburbias of postwar Los Angeles: thousands of nearly identical tarpaper shacks built around shopping malls, delivering a segregated, mass consumption-oriented version of American dream. I grew up in one of these suburbs, 25 years after Waldie did, and truly it was one of the most anomic places in human history, and Waldie does a beautiful job describing the politic ...more
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 othe
Andrew Frakes
Aug 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is among the very best books I've ever read, and it's certainly the best memoir I've ever read. Waldie does things with narrative that have haunted me since the last time I read the book (I read it three times in two weeks) -- his ability to thread through formative experience and everything that's come since then is truly impressive. But what's even more impressive is his ability to describe and paint a scene for the reader without giving way to lyrical passages and overworked adjective-he ...more
Apr 09, 2008 rated it it was ok
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.
Dustin Hanvey
Aug 20, 2011 rated it really liked it
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. ...more
Hank Stuever
Mar 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Dec 28, 2015 rated it it was amazing
An excellent and unique memoir. DJ Waldie grew up in Lakewood, an early post-WWII subdivision in California, and now lives in the home he grew up in. In hundreds of brief sections he explores the nature of the subdivision, its history, and the surrounding ecology. It is neither "sentimental" nor "contemptuous." Instead it's moving and lovely. "The design of this suburb compelled a conviviality that people got used to and made into a substitute for choices, including not choosing at all." ...more
Jan 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of the most unique...

Truly the most fascinating and engaging memoirs I've ever consumed a perfectly imperfect account of the earliest american suburbs. You are lead on a wonderful yet ordinary journey of a raw suburban place, with no frills or editorializing from the author. Its simply an experience, like taking his walk through town, and through time. This is a eally nice way to understand what suburbs did to people and what people did to them.
Apr 09, 2007 rated it liked it
Shelves: re-reading
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.
Oct 18, 2014 rated it liked it
For a school issued novel, it had the storyline that most lacked to keep me interested. Would I have ever read this or enjoyed this outside of the school setting? Probably not. Seemed a little aimless at times, but I pushed through it.
Aug 17, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: big-kid, nf, cheesy-memoir
I wanted more Lakewood stories & less angsty Catholic family shit. Basically, I want to talk about buildings all day long rather than feelings.
May 30, 2015 rated it liked it
Good. If you love Lakewood/Long Beach, it's a nostalgic read. I sat in Starbucks and knocked it out while listening to a Glen Miller spotify playlist... very nostalgic! ...more
Daniel Nelms
Jan 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoirs
Since I am currently ministering as a pastor in Suburbia, I've embarked on a journey to read through literature about Suburbia - it's history and development, and all the impacts of it. This is the second book I've read. It's a short book, but not worth moving through quickly. It is uniquely organized into 300 mini-subsets of chapters, and it is a captivating read. It is not necessarily a personal memoir, as much as it is a memoir of a Suburban town, while also applying to much of the suburban n ...more
Stephen van Dyck
Feb 21, 2021 rated it it was amazing
A portrait of a seemingly unremarkable suburb in an unusual form of coming-of-age meets urban planning meets poetry meets A People's History. The author shows the effect of centuries of land-grabbing opportunists on the shape of his own childhood, his parents' deaths, and the way he sees himself. I always felt like I was from a meaningless void, but Holy Land painstakingly shows how particular and insidious the suburbs are.

Did you know Los Angeles was put in its location in the 18th Century beca
Dec 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
What an odd and wonderful little book. The recounting of how land full of lima bean farms from Long Beach, CA to Los Angeles in the 1940s turned into one of the largest tracts of homes designed for the working family and veterans. The author lives there to this day, and combines history, urban planning, science of the soil and water, with surprising memoirist moments so literary in contrast--as if a gasp of gospel enters the engineering mind, then departs just as quickly. Nearly every paragraph ...more
Jun 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: bookclub-ca
I'm somewhat biased on this because I live in the city of Lakewood and have raised my children here. The author attends the same church that I do although I do not know him personally. That being said I enjoyed this quirky book and had a hard time putting it down. The chapters are small vignettes of historical events coupled with personal events in the author's life. He puts it all out there - the good and the bad. ...more
Nov 01, 2020 rated it liked it
Terse. Gnomic. An oddly flattened affect. This is a sort of memoir (though less the story of a life than of a place, or a life in a place) of a baby boomer who grew up in Lakewood, one of the early post-war mass suburbs built around L.A. Veering between memories of his parents' dying, details of the incorporation of the development as a city, and the challenges of maintaining the water supply. Bit hard to know what to make of it. ...more
Kim Ess
Oct 01, 2017 rated it liked it
This book was a confusing 3.5 for me. It was like reading someone's journal which is exactly what the author intended, I suppose. It did have some very interesting information in it though and I enjoyed learning about how the L.A. suburbs were created. I grew up in Downey, CA and had relatives who settled in Long Beach in the early 1900s so it was like reading about my family history in a way. I'm 4th generation raised in the south L.A. sprawl so I found it informative and entertaining. ...more
Aug 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I have lived my whole life in Los Angeles and I found this history well worth the read. I lived in tract housing in WLA, built by Paul Trousdale, it was his middle class tract. My life was much like the authors. How a city came to be built, Lakewood, California. Now I live in a tract in Westwood built by Janss in the 1920’s. Same principle as this book.
Jan 05, 2021 added it
In the conversation with the author at the end of my copy, DJ Waldie says, this is a book about "longing for what you already have." Waldie explores interesting questions about our responsibilities, obligations, and the emotions that come with being part of a community with limited space and resources. ...more
I read this for my History of Consumption class, and the book provides an in-depth look at suburban culture, especially in the 1950s, as well as the disillusionment the author has with Suburbia. Parts of it were interesting, but as the book progressed, many of the parts seemed repetitive, so I think a shorter book would provide a greater impact.
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D. J. Waldie is a cultural historian, memoirist, and translator. In books, essays, and online commentary, he has sought to frame the suburban experience as a search for a sense of place. Often using his hometown of Lakewood as a starting point, Waldie’s work ranges widely over the history of suburbanization and its cultural effects.

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  Mary Roach is a science author who specializes in the bizarre and offbeat. With a body of work ranging from deep-dives on the history of...
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“You are mistaken if you consider this a criticism, either of my father or the houses.” 1 likes
“Where I live is one of the places where suburban stories were first mass-produced. They were stories then for displaced Okies and Arkies, Jews who knew the pain of exclusion, Catholics who thought they did, and anyone white with a steady job.” 0 likes
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