At Home

Thursday, March 13, 2014

At Home
by Bill Bryson
★★★★☆

Did you know the word vicar comes from the word vicarious? Or that the reverend who wrote the hymn “Onward Christian Soldier” also wrote the first novel featuring a werewolf? What about the phrase room and board, any idea where that came from? After reading At Home you’ll brain will be packed full of trivia about houses and everything connected to them.
Bill Bryson has an incredible skill for taking the most random and mundane topics and making them enthralling. This is technically a “history of private lives” but that covers a lot of ground.
“If you had to summarize it in a sentence, you could say that the history of private life is a history of getting comfortable slowly.”
From the bathroom to the living room, we make our way through modern rooms learning why salt and pepper are the most common spices and that women had a really hard time getting care from doctors in the past. Also, make sure your wallpaper isn’t colored by arsenic!
This book covers so much more than the “home.” It explores how humanity has changed over the centuries, adjusting our domiciles as we change our habits. It shows how we use those homes to interact with the world and to retreat from it.
Bryson goes on to details the world of furniture and meals and social interactions in a way that is surprisingly engrossing. I honestly wondered how he could get a whole book out of life “at home” but he delves into the details of our endless search for comfort with such infectious enthusiasm. I found myself laughing out loud as I listened to it. I would definitely suggest getting your hands on the audiobook, which he reads himself. His dry sense of humor is best translated when you hear it from his own lips.
BOTTOM LINE: One of my favorite Bryson books! I felt like I learned so much and just when a topic started to get the tiniest bit tired he moved on to the next subject. If you’re a fan of nonfiction with a touch of humor and sarcasm (think Mary Roach or Sarah Vowell) I would highly recommend.

11 comments:

Susan Bybee said...

I have such a crush on Bryson! Really want to read this one. Have you read One Summer: America, 1927? More Bryson bliss.

Sarah said...

This was such a good read. I read it in print, but your review makes me wnt to try the audio

Sandy Nawrot said...

Just from your description I immediately thought of Roach. It's almost too much trivia to hold in one little head! I've not read any of his stuff, but I do think I may have one of his audios on order (checking...yes it is One Summer). I'll see if I can get this one too.

JoAnn said...

This definitely sounds like my kind of nonfiction! I read one of Bryson's books ages ago (A Walk in the Woods) and am adding this to my list.

Meg @ write meg! said...

Very interesting! I've had Bryson on my radar for a while, and I have a hunch I'd enjoy his work in audio form. Hopefully I can track some down!

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Susan - I haven't read that one yet, but I'm on the waiting list at my library for it. I'm so glad to hear it's good!

Sarah - It's a fun audio!

Sandy - I think you'd like Life and Time of the Thunderbolt kid about his time growing up in the Midwest. You might be able to relate : )

JoAnn - I really liked A Walk in the Woods, but I like this one more!

Meg - He is perfect in audio form. I always enjoy his books more that way.

Lisa said...

I enjoyed this, and learned so much from it - that I've probably forgotten now. But one thing was indelibly impressed on my memory: that at one point there was a fashion for making fake eyebrows out of mouse skin! (why that stuck in my head, I have no idea, except possibly the ick factor.) I have his books on the UK and Australia on the TBR stacks - thanks for the nudge to move them up.

majoringinliterature said...

I really love Bill Bryson's books, and this is probably my favourite. Like you said, you wouldn't expect a book about 'home' to be fascinating, but it really is.

Jeanne said...

I might have to pick this one up sometime. Did you know he's our graduation speaker at Kenyon this May?

annieb said...

My favorite Bryson book is In a Sunburned Country, but this one is a close second. Honestly, I haven't read them all, but almost, and I am never disappointed. His research is amazing.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Lisa - Oh I remember that tidbit too, so gross!

majoringinliterature - I think that's the talents of a great nonfiction author, they can make any topic enthralling.

Jeanne - No way! I would love to hear him speak. I wonder if you can get tickets if you don't know a student. Hmmm.

annieb - I LOVED that one! I read it last year and it was one of my absolute favorites.