A blog by the staff of the Thomas Ford Memorial Library
There are two good reasons to read At Home: A Short History of Private Life: 1. It is tremendously informative; 2. It is incredibly funny. There is one great reason to read it on compact disc (BOCD): Bill Bryson, the author, narrates the book and he is terrific at it. To narrate a book is an art in itself and requires skills most writers don’t have, including elocution, pacing and a compelling speaking voice. Bryson, however, has these in spades and puts them to excellent use in reading the stories that comprise his nonfiction book.
And “stories” is the apt word for At Home. From “The Cellar” to “The Attic,” Bryson takes his listener on an adventure through the time and space that is our “Home Sweet Home.” After ruminating about commonplace items he found in his domicile–a Victorian parsonage built in 1851–he began the fascinating research for which he is known. The result is a series of interlinking chapters that go back to the Cro-Magnons (and ahead to the future as Bryson wonders where our desire for creature comforts will take us on our strained planet). As he considers salt and pepper shakers, bath tubs, and the countless other things that fill our residences, he mixes in the history, science, philosophy and religion that surround the objects and liberally seasons them with anecdotes. Here’s an example: “In the sixteenth century…starch came into fashion. One result was the magnificent ruffs known as piccadills. Really enormous piccadills made eating almost impossible and necessitated the fashioning of special long-handled spoons so that diners could get food to their lips. But there must have been a lot of dismaying dribbles and a general sense of hunger at mealtimes for many.”
Another audio version of At Home, a downloadable audiofile, is available at Thomas Ford. In addition, Thomas Ford has an ebook version and a print copy (643.1 BRY), great ways to see actual illustrations and photographs to augment the fascinating word pictures Bryson paints for us.
Review by Christine