Tuesday, February 7, 2012

At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson

Why I read it: The Bryson train continues.

Summary: A tour of Bill Bryson's house and how it got that way.

My Thoughts: We all stop and do it at some point in life. We look at something we've taken for granted for our entire lives and we think, "Wait a minute...why is that like that?" For some of us, the practice becomes a runaway freight train.

Bryson makes just such a move with At Home, but instead of just picking up on a few items around the house, he takes us room-by-room through the original plans and the finished product, bathing his mid-nineteenth century British cottage in the era in which it was born. The year of its construction - and so it goes for any house - can tell a lot about building materials, floor plan, paint color choices and more.

Each room, then, becomes an adventure in the history of western civilization, told only, though, as Bill Bryson can describe it. He has a particular knack for finding the oddballs of history and dropping them into their places within his books, until the cast of characters resembles a roll call of buffoons, misguided schemers and inept aristocrats. When we consider the time period he studies heavily in this book - from about 1750 to 1900, we understand why; no time in history was more overwhelmingly ostentatious than the Victorian Era.

So if you've ever wondered why it's pepper and salt on your table, why we have mudrooms, when the first toilet was introduced or who invented the term bigwig (Bryson is big on etymology, which makes me want to sit on his knee like he's my grandpa and chat with him), then this book is for you.

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