At Home…and not just because of the snow

Snow Report: still here, still deep, even on hedges, fences and especially on the pavements.  Icicles still hang from roofs and despite the promised slightly higher temperatures promised for the next few days, this snow doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. If you can get to a car, if it works, you can get somewhere. Though it’s still very, very cold.

Which means that today’s book is ideal for staying in and reading. Daughter worked with the author for a while promoting a transplant awareness charity, which is now (more or less) called “Live Life and Give Life”, which seeks to ensure that everyone signs up as a potential organ donor. It makes a difference, gentle reader!

Off the soapbox, and knowing first hand that Mr Bryson is quite a character, I was really keen to read Bill Bryson: At Home, A Short History of Private Life.

I have read other Bryson books, but had forgotten just how readable they are. He takes a theme, asks a question then goes in every direction revealing fascinating facts and stories en route. Thus in this book he travels round an old Rectory in Norfolk, room by room, and gives an account of the history of that room, whether it be the the kitchen or bedroom. He looks at the Nursery and the attitudes to children over the years, the Fusebox and the history of electricity in the home.A mysterious alcove inspires an account of the telephone, while the Study digresses into mousetrap design. There is an itch inspiring section on bugs in the home, and the construction of the home itself as the fashions and availability of materials such as brick is discussed.

This makes the book sound a bit boring, but it turns out to be so readable because of the way in which the topics are discussed, as if thoughts have just struck the writer and he has gone off and investigated. Certainly the Bibliography, references and index prove that a great deal of research has gone into this book, and that you could use it as the basis for following up one of the many topics tackled. I have not read “A Short History of Nearly everything” but will try to find in on the shelves now.

I enjoy Bryson’s writing style, and would recommend this book to everyone. Only one or two quibbles: the whole idea of having books and writing anything in the home was not really dealt within any detail, which seemed a bit sad especially given that the nature of the Rectory in this period would suggest both would be important. Also, given that Bryson is an American it’s not surprising, but I struggled with the amount of U.S history in this book which perhaps presupposes  more knowledge than I have. I was a bit lost amongst the Presidents building houses (or did they just have the same name?) and men who failed to get effective patents. Surprisingly given the number of females presumably spending more time than men ‘At Home’, not many women feature in this book, so despite the title it is not a woman’s history book in any real sense, unless it is the negative statement that women have not invented much, or developed many good ideas. Maybe given a suitable research resource, it would be possible to produce a book with a different emphasis, but I suppose that there is a scarcity of female recorded history and maybe it would be rather ambitious to tackle such a broad history from a feminist point of view. My suggestion is, read this book, and see what you think. I think you’ll find it fascinating.