Yesterday was one of those rainy autumn days where the leaves swirl to the ground, and the dark, wet branches dance against the grey sky. There is something about a dark day that makes me want to curl up with a blanket and lose myself in a book.
I've been reading At Home, A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson. It is a fascinating look at the history of all things domestic, from architecture to food preservation to telephones to toilets. The book is built around a journey through the author's home -- a nineteenth-century British rectory -- with each room inspiring an intelligent and witty discussion of the evolution of private life from Neolithic to modern times.
For instance, I knew that the word board, in room and board, referred to eating, but what I didn't know is that it came from medieval times, when the dining table in humble dwellings was actually a board that was perched on the diner's knees when food was served. When not in use it was hung on the wall. Thus, lodgers became known as boarders, and "an honest person -- someone who keeps his hands visible at all times -- is said to be aboveboard."
Did you know that the term "make a bed" is literally what people did in the Middle Ages? There were no mattresses, and no bedrooms. You rolled out a cloth, heaped a pile of straw, wrapped yourself in a cloak or blanket, and made yourself as comfortable as possible.
And what about the preservation of food? It is something we tend to take for granted today, but in the 1840's, ice was considered a miracle product that transformed the keeping of food. "In the summer of 1844, the Wenham Lake Ice Company -- named for a lake in Massachusetts -- took premises in the Strand in London, and there each day placed a fresh block of ice in the window. No one in England had ever seen a block of ice that big before -- certainly not in summer, not in the middle of London -- or one that was so wondrously glassy and clear. You could actually read through it: a newspaper was regularly propped behind the block so that passersby could see this amazing fact for themselves. The shop window became a sensation and was regularly crowded with gawkers."
Fascinating, right? The book goes on like this for nearly 500 pages, and if you are at all interested in the evolution of everyday life in our homes, this will be a wonderful read.
Just a disclaimer here -- this is not a paid review. I have not been asked by the publisher to review this book nor have I been given a copy. This is just me, talking about my current reading material. And that's about as exciting as it gets here on a rainy day. :)