CBR Bingo square: Home
I’ve always loved Bill Bryson’s travelogues, but I haven’t read most of his other books. At Home has never interested me and I wouldn’t have read it if it hadn’t fit this Bingo square so well, but I should have known that if anyone can make the history of brick making interesting, it’s Bryson.
The book is loosely structured as a tour through his family’s house in the English countryside, a former rectory built in the 1800s. Each chapter is devoted to a different part of the house (the Living Room, the Passage, the Garden). Some chapters are a fairly forthright history of how that room came to be a part of modern houses, while others wander more freely throughout the history of residences.
As always with a book by Bryson, this is chock-full of fascinating tidbits, about concrete houses, obscure nineteenth century flatware (like the terrapin fork), and how ice came to be a staple in our kitchens. One particular section on the Vanderbilts and the other industrial magnates led me to the website for the Breakers, the Vanderbilts’ ridiculously ostentatious and over the top summer home, where I spent an entire evening going on a very well-done virtual tour. I think my favorite bit of information, though, was about Skara Brae and Catalhoyuk (two ancient cities, one in Scotland and the other in Turkey). You can tell Bryson is fascinated by the information researchers have gleaned about the inhabitants of these cities and the mysteries that still remain, and his fascination is contagious.
There’s so much information packed in these pages that it’s impossible to discuss it all here. It’s important to note that even with the level of detail included in this book, so much is left out. To be clear, this book isn’t the history of the modern home so much as the history of modern home in Great Britain (and the U.S., to some degree). I was a little disappointed when I realized that this was going to focus almost exclusively on the accomplishments of British men (with a smattering of American men and British women), but the information is so interesting that I enjoyed this anyway. In almost every chapter I found myself looking around my own house in wonderment, amazed at how little thought I’d given to the history of the things that make it livable. Windows, a refrigerator, forks with four tines, toilets, stairs, a chimney–all of these things required years of work to perfect! I suppose I knew this, but I’d never really considered just how much effort had gone into them.
I started this off as an audiobook, which is narrated by Bryson. At first I was tickled by his Madonna-esque accent, but after a couple hundred pages I switched to an e-book version. First, this book has SO much information, and I absorb information much better through reading than listening. On top of that, I found that I had a bit of trouble at times understanding Bryson. I felt like he was mumbling a bit–just a note for anyone thinking about reading or listening to this.