During the recent holiday I read Bill Bryson’s latest tome – At Home – and, as usual, he far exceeded my expectations. As Bill says: “Houses aren’t refuges from history. They are where history ends up.”
Before we plunge deeper into the fray, I have to say that I love Bill Bryson’s work. He always manages to come over as being wildly enthusiastic about the topic in hand while achieving the perfect balance between interest and humor. His books are replete with nuggets of knowledge and tidbits of trivia, which are enhanced with his little bon mots that always bring a smile to my face (it’s not the size of your bon mots, of course, it’s what you do with them that counts [grin]).
Just to set the scene, Bill was born in Des Moines, Iowa, USA, in 1951. In 1973 he visited England and decided to stay after landing a job working in a psychiatric hospital. While there he met and married a nurse named Cynthia. Bill and Cynthia moved to the USA in 1975 so he could complete his college degree. Two years later in 1977, they returned to England, where they remained until 1995, at which time they moved back to America. Then, in 2003 the Brysons and their four children travelled back across “the pond” to England, where they now live in Norfolk. Phew!
Bill has written many wonderful books. Notes from a Small Island talks about his experiences in England; I’m a Stranger Here Myself recounts his return to America in 1995; and In a Sunburned Country (which had me laughing until I cried) we follow Bill as he meanders his way around Australia. I intend to write reviews of all of these books – and his many others – just as soon as I get a free moment, but we digress…
When the Brysons returned to England in 2003, they purchased a Victorian parsonage in Norfolk, which Bill describes as “A part of England where nothing of great significance has happened since the Romans decamped.”
The underlying premise of At Home is that Bill walks us around his home explaining the history of each type of room. Along the way he covers a multitude of topics like sex, hygiene, nutrition, and the way in which people from different social classes enjoyed life (or not, as the case might be). Although mostly rooted in English history over the past few hundred years (with the occasional excursion into the deeper past), we also get a good dose of American history along with forays into European history.
In reality, Bill uses this book as a platform (or perhaps an excuse) to regale us with all sorts of historical facts, from architecture to electricity, from food preservation to epidemics, from the telephone to the Eiffel Tower, from crinolines to toilets to the spice trade and the spice islands…
Speaking about islands, one reviewer of this book on Amazon said “I always finish Bill Bryson's books with the thought that he would be the absolute top person on my list of people with whom I'd like to be stranded on a desert island.” I know just what he means.
To be honest, I think it’s fair to say that this is probably not the best of Bill’s books, but that’s only because he has set such a high standard in his other works. Sometimes he rambles on a bit and many times he wanders off-topic, but I don’t really care because I always seem to enjoy where we end up. The bottom line is that I personally really enjoyed At Home and would happily recommend it to anyone.