Welcome to British Isles Friday! British Isles Friday is a weekly event for sharing all things British and Irish — reviews, photos, opinions, trip reports, guides, links, resources, personal stories, interviews, and research posts. Join us each Friday to link your British and Irish themed content and to see what others have to share. The link list is at the bottom of this post. Pour a cup of tea or lift a pint and join our link party!
Last week, I wrote about the heat wave that hit the British Isles. Tina shared two books with us last week — How to Stop Time by Matt Haig (about a 429-year-old man) and Ashton Hall by Lauren Belfer (about a history researcher).
Book: At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson
Genre: Nonfiction history
Publisher: Random House Audio
Publication date: 2010
Source: Borrowed the audio e-book from the library
Summary: Bill Bryson lives in a former rectory in Norfolk designed for the young clergyman Thomas John Gordon Marsham. Bryson uses Marsham’s house as the foundation for the story of the modern Western concept of home.
Bryson first orients us in time. 1851 was the year of The Great Exhibition of London housed in the astounding edifice of the Crystal Palace. 1851 was also the year that Marsham’s house was built.
From there, Bryson takes us room-by-room through the house to learn about the design of the space, the objects that inhabit it, and the activities that go on there. For all that we’re starting at home, this approach takes us on all manner of strange and wonderful journeys through history and around the world.
The title uses the word “short.” The reader is always aware of how selective the author needed to be to keep this story from sprawling everywhere. The hardback was 500 pages and the audiobook, read by the author, is over 12 hours long.
Thoughts: Since I listen to audiobooks for about a half-hour a day and only on some days, this book took me weeks to finish. Fortunately, At Home was published in 2010 so there wasn’t a waiting list at the library, and I could keep checking out the e-audiobook over and over again until I finished.
What I enjoyed most about this book were the glimpses of great English houses. I looked them up on the internet to learn more — a kind of fantasy tour called “The Great English Country Houses — Past and Present.” Some of the ones he mentions are gone — destroyed by fire or, simply, destroyed because they no longer serve a purpose in the modern world. Many of them still exist, though, and can be visited today.
Appeal: This was a cozy and intimate way of viewing history. We learned about a lot of famous or should-be-famous men. But there was room for imagining how ordinary people experienced their time at home.
Have you read this book? What did you think?