Sunday, May 30, 2010

From Times Online
May 29, 2010

At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson
Every room tells a story as our favourite raconteur explores the secrets of domestic life throughout history

Beds were, for millennia, uncomfortable, rustlingly noisy, scratchy things. They were smelly havens for bedbugs, fleas, moths and even mice and rats. They were hard work; changing the bedclothes meant plucking some geese, which puts wrestling with a duvet cover into perspective.

Here I am, then, writing this in a lovely, comfortable 21st-century bed, laptop perched on knees and Bill Bryson’s odd, enchanting book At Home: A Short History of Private Life sitting next to me on a synthetic-fibre laundered plump pillow, and not a goose in sight. What luck to be alive now, what joy to live in a warm and welcoming home. As Bryson says: “If you had to summarise it in a sentence, you could say that the history of private life is a history of getting comfortable slowly.”
There was a time before sofas, before beds, before bathrooms. A time when our skin crawled with bugs, our clothes were stiff with dirt and our faeces threatened to overwhelm us. Life was dark, lit only by guttering candles. An Englishman’s home may always have been his castle, but it was a rotten, uncomfortable castle for most of recorded history.
The idea of At Home is deceptively simple: starting with his own house, a former rectory in Norfolk, Bryson takes us on a tour of private life through the ages. It’s a book about reinterpreting the ordinary, and finding the extraordinary in the humdrum business of living. The idea started with Bryson asking questions about his house, such as, why salt and pepper on the table? Why not salt and cinnamon? What does room and board actually mean?
Full story at The Times.

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