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At Home by Bill Bryson

Bill Bryson Home

At Home: A Short History of Private Life

 

by Bill Bryson

 

This is my second Bill Bryson Sticky Book out of 25 so far. When I decided last night that his book would be the Sticky Book for today, I had actually forgotten that I ran “A Short History of Nearly Everything” a few months ago. These two books are so different, yet so quintessentially Bill Bryson. I have never consider Bryson as one of my favorite authors, but with 2 out of 25, maybe it’s about time I start.

When my wife and I were a young married couple, we used to read this book in bed at night. I would read a chapter out loud before we fell asleep. Such an antiquated way to share a book, fitting for a room-by-room trip through the home full of wit and fun facts. My wonderful wife would often doze off at the end of a chapter–such a picturesque moment. I still have fond memories of sharing this book together.

 

“It is always quietly thrilling to find yourself looking at a world you know well but have never seen from such an angle before.”

 

“Houses aren’t refuges from history. They are where history ends up.”

 

“We are so used to having a lot of comfort in our lives—to being clean, warm, and well fed—that we forget how recent most of that is. In fact, achieving these things took forever, and then they mostly came in a rush.”

 

“And it occurred to me, with the forcefulness of a thought experienced in 360 degrees, that that’s really what history mostly is: masses of people doing ordinary things.”

 

“The dining table was a plain board called by that name. It was hung on the wall when not in use, and was perched on the diners’ knees when food was served. Over time, the word board came to signify not just the dining surface but the meal itself, which is where the board comes from in room and board. It also explains why lodgers are called boarders.”

 

“Out of the thirty thousand types of edible plants thought to exist on Earth, just eleven—corn, rice, wheat, potatoes, cassava, sorghum, millet, beans, barley, rye, and oats—account for 93 percent of all that humans eat, and every one of them was first cultivated by our Neolithic ancestors.”

 

“For anyone of a rational disposition, fashion is often nearly impossible to fathom. Throughout many periods of history – perhaps most – it can seem as if the whole impulse of fashion has been to look maximally ridiculous. If one could be maximally uncomfortable as well, the triumph was all the greater.”

 

“Columbus’s real achievement was managing to cross the ocean successfully in both directions. Though an accomplished enough mariner, he was not terribly good at a great deal else, especially geography, the skill that would seem most vital in an explorer. It would be hard to name any figure in history who has achieved more lasting fame with less competence.”

 

“Nothing, however, bemused the Indians more than the European habit of blowing their noses into a fine handkerchief, folding it carefully, and placing it back in their pockets as if it were a treasured memento.”

 

“If a potato can produce vitamin C, why can’t we? Within the animal kingdom only humans and guinea pigs are unable to synthesize vitamin C in their own bodies. Why us and guinea pigs? No point asking. Nobody knows.”

 

“[Americans] were, for one thing, so smitten with the idea of progress that they invented things without having any idea whether those things would be of any use.”

 

“Originally, the cellar served primarily as a coal store. Today it holds the boiler, idle suitcases, out-of-season sporting equipment, and many sealed cardboard boxes that are almost never opened but are always carefully transferred from house to house with every move in the belief that one day someone might want some baby clothes that have been kept in a box for twenty-five years.”

 

“Portability also explains why many old chests and trunks had domed lids- to throw off water during travel. The great drawback of trunks, of course, is that everything has to be lifted at to get things at the bottom. It took a remarkably long time- till the 1600s- before it occurred to anyone to put drawers in and thus convert trunks into chests of drawers.”
 
 

Sticky Books are those that you just can’t get out of your head. They stick with you long after you have put the book down and have moved on to something else. These are some of my Sticky Books. I don’t enjoy reviewing books myself. I find I am either full of far too much praise for the book because I know how difficult it can be to write a book, or I am far too negative about a book because, well, I guess I was just in a bad mood. So instead of reviews, I have pulled some of my favorite quotes from each Sticky Book.
 

Find more writing and publishing tips at Nothing Any Good.
 

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