At Home is a cheeky ramble about nothing much, and also everything. Bryson moved into an old rectory in Norfolk and was investigating a leak in the attic when he discovered a door leading to wtfnothing. You or I would be all, Seal that shit before the kids find it and plunge to their screeching deaths, but Bryson is like, Houses are odd and I will write a book. It will be a ‘short history of private life’ but that gambit will mostly just be an excuse to noodle through whatever I find interesting. I will slip in all the trivia that I’ve gleaned since my last noodle, being the ENORMOUS TRIVIA-MAGNET THAT I AM, and I will continue to be the Valedictorian of the Unexpectedly Apt Adjective. Casually frisky, robustly harmful, energetically combustible. People will be on board.
I am always on board with you, sir. It took me forever to read this because after every three lines or so I would go back and re-read them just for the sheer delight of it. And cheeky! Have I mentioned cheeky? Somehow, while discussing the underappreciated corridor, he veers into Eiffel Tower territory, which edifice ‘wasn’t just the largest thing that anyone had ever proposed to built, it was the largest completely useless thing…Never in history has a structure been more technologically advanced, materially obsolescent, and gloriously pointless all at the same time.’ Them’s fightin words, but not empty insults. The Tower was the Last Iron Thing built, just after the birth of its more practical cousin, steel. Everyone was like, The hell, Eiffel?
Corridors and Eiffel Towers being, admittedly, strange bedfellows. This isn’t just a history of kitchen sinks or of falling down stairs (though it’s that, too), but a broad, piecemeal swath of human development. The history of the garden is also the history of the public park which is also the history of public wealth and the idea that even the poor need a place to stroll through attractively arranged plantlife. Ya dig?
The book is four-hundred-and-hummina pages, but even that is painfully small for all the things Bryson proposes to historicize. It is of necessity selective, and selective primarily to Brits and Americans and to the Victorian era because that is When Shit Was Invented. The rectory’s original rector was born into a world of candlelight and carriages and died surrounded by steampships and anesthesia and refrigeration and telephones and cars and movies and mass-produced soap. You were so industrious, my nineteenth century darlings.
There are a very few bits near the beginning that are too much This is what a Victorian woman wore: list of numerous clothing items, or This is how a rector ate: list of many food items, which, while interesting, are just so LISTY. Those taper off about a chapter or so in, and are really my only beef. Largely beefless, this review. I am a shameless Bryson fangirl, and I cannot help flailing my hands. Read this, and love it.