Since my wife bought me A Walk in the Woods a few years ago, I have become a Bill Bryson addict. I have read every one of his books that I could get my hands on.
Bryson’s prose is crisp and clear; his stories always relevant and often humorous. He is possibly – and I know that I am somewhat biased – the best popular writer of non-fiction of his generation.
Over the years, Bryson has tackled the life cycle of the universe (A Short History of Nearly Everything) and his own life (The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid). He has looked at American life as a grieving son (The Lost Continent) and as a man returning after twenty years in England (I’m a Stranger Here Myself). He was walked the Appalachian Trail (A Walk in the Woods) and gone to Africa to do charity work (African Diary). In short, Bill Bryson has been there and done that.
So, when he sat down to write his most recent book, of course he would write it about his house in Norfolk, England. The result is a history not of the political world or the military world but of life in the home. Bryson takes us on a tour of his home – a converted rectory – and as he does, he explores the ways home life has changed over the centuries. He asks seemingly random questions like, “Why do we put salt and pepper on the table? Why not cummin and oregano?” and “Why do forks have four tines?” He explores everything inside the house, from toilets to stoves, and everything outside the house from yards to roofs.
As always, Bryson keeps the narrative moving with wit and banter. Despite the breadth of the obscurity of much of his subject matter (and things don’t get much more obscure than the origin of the various terms for a house’s bathroom), Bryson manages to make it sound like it is just an every day conversation.