Akron Beacon-Journal columnist David Giffels will host the official release party for his third book, All the Way Home: Building a Family in a Falling-Down House
, at the Downtown Akron Public Library (60 S. High Street) at 7 p.m. Wednesday, June 4, with a talk, reading, Q&A, and book signing. If you don’t feel like a midweek drive south, you can catch him at Cleveland’s Joseph-Beth Booksellers (at Legacy Village, 24667 Cedar Rd.) at 7 p.m. Wednesday, June 11.
In the memoir, the writer-and-sometime-rocker (who fronts Akron postpunk band the Difficult) fights against the decay that threatens to erase the Rubber City’s onetime glory. The book follows Giffels and his growing family as they purchase and renovate a dilapidated early 20th-century Tudor and make it a home, one fixture at a time. Giffels, a columnist for the Akron Beacon-Journal, purchased the crumbling mansion for $65,000. He saw it as a bargain -- and, more importantly, an investment in his town. ...
“I really like being part of a community of younger people who openly and unironically embrace Akron as our hometown, and who don't need anyone to explain to them why this is an excellent place to be and to be from,” says Giffels. “But I'm constantly running up against people who do need that to be explained to them, so I'm willing to do it. There's an inexpensive quality of life here that is worth bragging about.”
Giffels’ previous books are about Akron’s most famous exports: the rubber industry and Devo. Giffels also wrote the best Beavis and Butthead episode, the Cornholio-in-a-coffeehouse howler “Butt-niks.” Read more about the book -- which is alternately funny and touching -- in my Around Hear column, in this week’s Scene. Here are some leftover bits from our chat with Giffels:
DX Ferris: In the book, you make much of finding pieces for your homes by scavenging your way around your hometown. Do you think the whole house experience could have happened to you if you'd moved to Michigan? If you'd been in an alien landscape, would you have been able to forage so successfully, do you think?
Giffels: I think the scavenging instinct is imprinted in the DNA, so it's likely I would operate in much the same way no matter where I lived. That said, there's definitely something to be said for living your whole life in one place, in terms of knowing the dark corners. I suppose it's like a junkie staying close to his sources. If I need to get my hands on a cut-glass doorknob to fit a half-inch escutcheon, for instance, I know where to go. There's a whole community of salvage dealers and collectors and aficionados around Northeast Ohio, and when I picture the ones I know, it's probably no accident that they remind me of characters in a Tom Waits song.
You talk more explicitly about this in the book’s promo material, but how much of your house experience do you see as making an investment in Akron?
That was hugely important, the idea of saving and then restoring a house that was connected to Akron's rubber history. This house was built in 1913 by an officer in the Miller Rubber Company as a wedding gift for his daughter, who was marrying a B.F. Goodrich executive. We bought this house at the same time I was researching and writing about that history in the yearlong newspaper series that became the book "Wheels of Fortune." So the entire experience was overlaid with that sheen of history, and also the romance of establishing another, very different Akron family there at the end of the same century.
Akron, and other Great Lakes/postindustrial cities, are important case studies in how to maintain the physical elements of our architectural past and adapt them to the present and future. Americans -- and Ohioans -- have a spotty track record in this regard. Too often, we tear down buildings under the erroneous belief that they've become obsolete, and in the process we lose an understanding of who we are. In my own case, there were some real estate speculators who wanted to tear this beautiful Tudor house down to put in surface parking for the nearby apartments, and our resistance to that idea was part of what drove us to want to restore it. I think that's a prototypically Northeast Ohio instinct -- contrarian stubbornness with some aspect of a moral imperative.
In the book, you don't dwell on music on that part of your life. Are you saving the music thing for future use?
Actually, there is a lot of music in the book, and a lot of musical references. Henry Rollins is sort of a spirit-guide, vis-a-vis dogged do-it-yourselfedness, and a Liz Phair CD meets a tragic end. But the part of my life that involves playing music didn't really seem relevant to the story I wanted to tell, and I was also aware of the danger of being misinterpreted as the unfulfilled aging rock-and-roller-turned-father with dashed jukebox hero dreams, which just sounds like the bad promo copy for a really bad movie, and definitely doesn't have anything to do with my own personality. There's plenty of angst in the book, but not that kind.