Non fiction, for me, is either a total win where my face is buried in the book for hours at a time or it feels like the worst college class I've ever taken and all I'm trying to do is keep facts and dates straight and glean something useful from piles of dullness.
I read Bill Bryson's memoir The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid a couple years ago and loved it. I have since picked up a few of his other books and found them really interesting (although, by the end of A Short History of Nearly Everything I was feeling a bit overwhelmed by information).
So when I saw Bryson's newest, At Home: A Short History of Private Life, on my in-laws' shelf I had to take a peek at the first few pages and ended up taking it home with me.
Bryson and his family inhabit a centuries old former church in England. He uses the rooms of his own home to give a brief history of domesticity and explain why our homes are the way they are. For example, Bryson explores why, of all the spices and condiments, salt and pepper have found such an enduring place at our tables. He explains the history behind the term, "make the bed." He devotes a couple pages to the agricultural significance of guano.
At 452 pages, At Home is not a light read, but I found myself totally immersed for long stretches and was constantly looking for people to share my new facts with. Since my reading coincided with our short trip to Utah, my poor mom was frequently the one going, "Uh huh..." when I blurted out things like, "Did you know that the world comfortable was first used in 1770 in a personal letter?" Which is interesting when you realize that, prior to that time, people weren't really concerned with comfort at home. It was just sort of the place you survived in. And then! Stuff happened (you'll have to read to find out what).
From the back cover:
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.