Quick Review: In the Neighborhood

Earlier this year, various media outlets discussed a book where the adult author decides to ask his neighbors if he can sleep over. I recently read this book, In the Neighborhood: The Search for Community, One Sleepover at a Time by Peter Lovenheim, and have some thoughts about it.

1. First, a quick summary. Lovenheim, a journalist, lives on a wealthy street in a suburb of Rochester, New York. After a murder-suicide in the neighborhood, he realizes that he doesn’t know any of his neighbors, even after growing up on the street and having moved back to the street as an adult. To rectify this, he decides to ask his neighbors if he can sleep over in order to build relationships.

2. There is a lot of pop sociology in this book as it includes short discussions about suburban houses and whether they encourage neighborliness, the book Bowling Alone by Robert Putnam, and social capital. These short segments give his actions some context but they do not go into much depth.

3. Even with his persistent actions, he still doesn’t build strong relationships with too many people. A number of neighbors turn him down including one guy who keeps repeating that he “is a very private person.” Overall, he seems to build relationships with people who tend to agree with him that it is unfortunate that people don’t know their neighbors.

4. Two factors lead me to wonder whether the outcomes of the book could be found elsewhere:

a. Lovenheim admits briefly that he might have been motivated to do this because of a recent separation with his wife. Would he act differently if still married? Would people react to him differently if he were married or seen as a family man compared to being a single father?

b. He lives on a wealthy street: his neighbors tend to be doctors, lawyers, and motivated professionals. A constant theme is that people on the street don’t want their privacy to be invaded; would other places be more open or friendly?

5. In the end, this is another book that laments the loss of community in America. The difference here is the author attempts to do something (however small) about it and his life is enriched. Towards the end of the book, Lovenheim tries to add some stories of others reaching out to their neighbors but this felt contrived compared to his personal narrative.

Overall, I would say this was an interesting, yet light, read. Those looking for large solutions to community life in America are likely to be disappointed but Lovenheim’s interactions with a variety of people in the neighborhood is entertaining.

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