Book Review ~ In The Neighborhood ~ The Search for Community on an American Street, One Sleepover at a Time by Peter Lovenheim

In The Neighborhood: The Search for Community on an American Street, One Sleepover at a Time

Summary ~ Journalist and author Peter Lovenheim has lived on the same street in suburban Rochester, NY, most of his life. But it was only after a brutal murder-suicide rocked the community that he was struck by a fact of modern life in this comfortable enclave: no one knew anyone else.Thus begins Peter’s search to meet and get to know his neighbors. An inquisitive person, he does more than just introduce himself. He asks, ever so politely, if he can sleep over.In this smart, engaging, and deeply felt book, Lovenheim takes readers inside the homes, minds, and hearts of his neighbors and asks a thought-provoking question: do neighborhoods matter-and is something lost when we live among strangers?   

If Peter Lovenheim came to my neighborhood and stayed overnight for one of his sleepovers at my house, he would find a loving, television and internet addicted, pet dog obsessed couple who have been married for six years.  He would also learn that we only “know” a few of our neighbors.  He would probably try to get us involoved in relationships with other neighbors based on common interests or jobs.  I wouldn’t stop him either.  Thus, the premise of Peter Lovenheim’s book, In The Neighborhood ~ The Search for Community on an American Street, One Sleepover at a Time

I picked this book up when I was at a Borders Bookstore up in Maryland last month.  I was drawn to the cover first and then, after reading the inside flaps, I knew I had to read this book.  See, Hubby, Rocky and I had a house built last summer in a brand new community.  There isn’t a lot of outdoor activity on a daily basis but I have observed the comings and goings of my immediate neighbors, who has elderly parents living with them and which ones like to take leisurely walks during the day, who works tirelessly on their lawns and landscaping on a weekly basis and who has the classic car and tinkers on it once in a while.  There are a total of forty houses in our development which is just over a year and a half old.  We live on the back-end of the neighborhood so we have to drive by most of our neighbors homes and get to observe changes as they occur. 

In The Neighborhood starts with the question of how well do we really know our neighbors, the people who live and sleep sometimes just yards away from our own house?  Peter Lovenheim’s seemingly peaceful neighborhood is shaken (especially Peter himself) when a husband shoots and kills his wife with a shotgun in their home and then kills himself, leaving their two children to flee their home for the neighbor’s house and safety.  I live in the DC metro area and unfortunately there are always disturbing news reports of murder/suicides, homicides, rapes and burglary in areas not far from our quiet piece of the American Dream.  You just never know do you?! 

The project that Peter creates for himself, of getting to know his neighbors in the intimate way that is sleeping in their homes for one night and spending a whole day with them as they go about their regular schedule.  He learns that two women who live just two houses apart have very similar passions and goals in life but have never met.  There is the lonely elderly neighbor who is a widow and retired doctor and becomes an important person in Peter’s life once they get to know each other.  The people who Peter meets, who share the same street name with him, eventually become more neighborly but it isn’t without Peter and his clever thinking and plotting that gets people who didn’t know each other before to care about each other later. 

My parents will have lived in their house in Maryland for thirty-three years this summer.  Even after all those years they don’t really know their neighbors.  They talk on the sidewalk once in a while but they were never the kind of people to host a neighborhood cookout or get a block party started.  As far as I know nothing like that has ever occured in the immediate vacinity of their house though.  I try to be more approachable in my new neighborhood but I do find it hard sometimes.  People are tired when they get home from work and then have kids to worry about or chores and dinner are waiting.  We don’t have a homeowners association in place yet because the developer hasn’t turned it over to the neighborhood yet but I hope to be active in it when it does. 

The most neighborly people I have ever met (and it wasn’t always a good thing) were my girlfriends and their neighbors who lived on military bases in Okinawa, Japan.  Hubby and I were sometimes attending block parties, house parties, birthday parties, wet down (promotion) parties and graduation parties every weekend during certain times of the year.  It was a blast but sometimes it felt like dorm living in college.  Everyone was into everyone else’s business, gossip was a dangerous weapon and friendships combusted into enemy and frenemy relations.  Being close neighbors can sometimes be toxic!  Too much of a good thing I guess.

This book has inspired me to say hi more often and ask how my neighbors are doing when I do see them outside.  What about you?  Are you a good neighbor who feels involved in your neighborhood? 

{Rating ~ 4 out of 5}

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