It was a Bill Bryson kind of day.
My first two customers asked about a book by Bill Bryson. The first, a woman maybe in her 60's, short, very black hair, asked about his new book. She owned (but hadn't read) A Walk in the Woods. I told her about his older books (which she didn't know about), took her to the travel writing section where most of them are, told her that my favorite of those is I'm a Stranger Here Myself. She told ME that he is coming to town as part of the visiting author series. Tickets are going fast. I'd love to see him someday.
The second customer wanted Bryson's newest book, At Home, which I'd just finished reading that morning.
At Home describes the history of houses, but not just the structures and things in them, there is much, much more...
"What I found out is that whatever happens in the world - whatever is discovered or created or bitterly fought over - eventually ends up, in one way or another, in your house...So the history of household life isn't just a history of beds and sofas and kitchen stoves, as I had vaguely supposed it would be, but of scurvy and guano and the Eiffel Tower and bedbugs and body snatching and just about everything else that has ever happened. Houses aren't refuges from history. They are where history ends up."
The Eiffel Tower? Well, indeed. In his chapter about building materials used to make houses he talk about iron. For a short while (a very short while), iron was used as a building material. It was sturdy. It was also very very heavy, so it didn't last long as a construction material. The Eiffel Tower is made of iron. An incredible feat of engineering, it is the largest and one of the last structures ever made out of iron.
"The Eiffel Tower wasn't just the largest thing that anyone had ever proposed to build, it was the largest completely useless thing.
"It wasn't a palace or a burial chamber or a place of worship. It didn't even commemorate a fallen hero...even he (Monsieur Eiffel) admitted that mostly he wished to build it simply for the strange pleasure of make something really quite enormous."
Chock full of facts, At Home doesn't feel like a history lesson, just as his Short History of Nearly Everything didn't feel like a science lesson, because of Bryson's own delight in what he's learning and sharing with us. Putting his own engaging style on what he's learning, Bryson has, as my dad would have said, done his homework...
"Eighty-four percent of people who die in stair falls at home are 65 or older. This is not so much because the elderly are more careless on stairs, but just because they don't get up so well afterword...People in good shape fall more often than people in bad shape, largely because they do a lot more bounding and don't descend as carefully and with as many rest stops as the tubby or infirm."
Bill Bryson is one of my favorite authors. At Home is another entertaining addition to the Bryson compendium.
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