Sunday, February 13, 2011
Week 7: At Home
At Home: a Short History of Private Life, by Bill Bryson
I've been looking forward to getting my hands on Bryson's new book, which is a sort of mish-mashy history of homes, comfort, and private life in general. It didn't disappoint me; although you can't trust him to be exactly accurate on every point, Bryson never fails to entertain and do some informing as well. His trademark style is pleasant to read and abounds in descriptive adverbs that add humor and interest. (Though I did feel that he used grimly an awful lot this time around.) Some of his favorites are cherishably, staggeringly, alluringly, and curiously.
Bryson's general plan is to wander through his Norfolk house--a former rectory--room by room, and write about topics that are generally connected with what the room is for. So in the dressing room, he talks about the cotton trade and corsets. The study, which is sometimes invaded, gets a long and horrifying discourse on mice, rats, and other critters, and the bathroom chapter features plenty of enthralling information about London sewers.
The house was built in 1851, the same year as the Great Exhibition, and that gets plenty of play, as well as anything else that happened in that eventful year. Although Bryson talks about homes in many periods of history, and wanders over to America at times, England in the Victorian era gets the most space, with the Georgians coming in second because they loved architecture so much. There's plenty to talk about, and it's a fun book.
The main result of reading it is to make you very, very grateful for your nice comfy bed, your central heating and modern plumbing, and your general lack of coal fires, arsenic-soaked wallpaper, and cholera plagues.