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Fixer Upper

Like a lot of people probably, I moved into the apartment that would become my home for twenty years with no idea that it was ever going to last me more than one or two. As such, it has evolved – in floor plan, in pictures and furniture – according to no discernible logic, only the half-remembered urgency of corners that needed filling, and appliances that wanted buying, and gifts you couldn’t return – like many different languages spoken all at once and somehow adding up.

Since I have never had the opportunity then, the promise of actually planning a living environment from scratch feels enviable, but also daunting, as a fair amount of self invention is probably at stake. Much as we’d like to carve out our perfect definitions of home, and rearrange the lighting, and order stuff from catalogs, isn’t there also some very real risk of the stuff then defining us back?

What happens if we lose it? That is the surprisingly existential crossroads represented in Eric Carle’s A House for Hermit Crab, and though it does not arrive from foreclosure or tornadoes or divorce, it’s always a little wrenching to me when Hermit Crab must shrug his crustacean shoulders and move on. Because this is otherwise a blithely scenic shopping excursion across the ocean floor, through starfish and corals and anemones and even a snail who decides to stay on as a housekeeper. Finally, and memorably, are scores of blue lantern fish who agree to accompany the expedition through a murky patch of seaweed to the other side – it’s clear they won’t follow forever. And yes, he’s a hermit crab, still it’s easy to get swept up here, especially as you cannot imagine happening upon quite these sort of spectacular opportunities again. 

The forest of Eric Carle’s titles may very well seem unnavigable for anyone just getting started, but I’d call this one of my favorite places to stop and visit, once all of the board books are safely socked away. There’s real wisdom in these pages, not least for exacting a cost. Think of the thrill, but then also the outrage, upon discovering that shell you turned up at the beach is already occupied – like a snail were not firstly responsible, and there are any among us who weren’t renting all along.

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