The word suburbia conjures up images of cookie-cutter houses with white picket fences distributed around wide-arcing cul-de-sacs. In the late 1950s and -60s, sameness and repetition pervaded these outer-lying neighborhoods beyond America's cities, but so, too, did anxieties and health concerns, at least insofar as the suburbs were portrayed in paperbacks of the era.

Architect contributor Amanda Kolson Hurley offers a wealth of examples of midcentury literature in which the suburbs themselves beset protagonists with any number of maladies, from ulcers to weakness of will, with the salaciousness of affairs enabled by both proximity (and often absent husbands) thrown in for good measure. It would be easy to suggest that in the intervening years between the publication of these novels and now, that of course things have changed. Yet, as Kolson writes for Curbed, opinions of the suburbs formed in that era have yet to be fully erased: "Although our diagnoses of its problems differ, we still invest suburbia with considerable power to influence people’s behavior, almost always for the worse ... Rather than small houses with too-near neighbors causing people to crack up, today we point to large lots, unwalkable streets, and single-use zoning as the agents of obesity and diabetes, and the SUV parked in the driveway as a vector of climate change. The science may be sounder, but the tone of moral approbation from the 1950s still clings to many polemics against suburban life."

Read the full story, and fill up your summer reading list, at Curbed.

Read more >