If ever you wanted to get a degree in British history, save yourself a few thousand in college tuition and indulge in a couple of Bryson’s tomes—speci...moreIf ever you wanted to get a degree in British history, save yourself a few thousand in college tuition and indulge in a couple of Bryson’s tomes—specifically At Home. Reading it might take the same time as it would to get your degree, but it will almost certainly be more entertaining. Bryson essentially relates the history of Britain, mainly from the Early Modern period, through the domestic lens of the home, examining the ways in which major shifts and events in politics, economy, nature, culture, arts, and sciences ended up influencing various material trends, from the emergence of the dining room as a dedicated eating space to the usage of the salt and pepper shaker.
Bryson bandies about a great many names of inventors, scientists, engineers, architects, artists, dilettantes, explorers, and gadabouts, all of whom played some influence on our modern concept of home and creature comforts. What is even more surprising than some of the inventors and their influence is the obscurity many of them fell into, even within their own lifetimes. Indeed, Bryson almost takes on a tone of somber schadenfreude (which, nonetheless, fails to disguise his vaguely gleeful tone) as he obligingly relates the many ways in which a great many of these famous personalities come to unsatisfactory, if not entirely ignominious, ends.
The strength of Bryson’s work—his ability to pack an astounding number of facts within 497 pages, and to do so in a vividly entertaining manner—is also the drawback: there is simply too much information. His writing is wonderfully, logically tangential—for example, his chapter on “The Study” becomes an extended musing of the rodent population of the world and the development of the mousetrap; “The Staircase” is little more than an absolutely chilling reflection on the number of falling fatalities taking place within a home (seriously, I’m never moving away from my 1-story ranch), and most notably, “The Nursery” briefly meanders into a paragraph that relays the titillating information that not one, but two 19th century prime ministers were “devoted flagellants.” (Melbourne and Gladstone, in case you were wondering.) While all of this makes for fascinating and amusing reading, it also means that, unless you have an eidetic memory, many of these facts will fall out of your mind the moment you move from one chapter to the next. My suggestion is this: if you really want to read it, take notes to remember the most important stuff. It’s the only way you’ll be able to keep it all straight. (less)
A quick summary: Jane Austen with a little sauce. In other words, this would be what Jane Austen's novels would be like if her characters were a littl...moreA quick summary: Jane Austen with a little sauce. In other words, this would be what Jane Austen's novels would be like if her characters were a little less prim and passive-aggressive, and a little more worldy-wise. A funny, entertaining read.(less)
There's not a lot of words I can use to sum up this book. But I think I can use a few to give you an idea: A delightful romp. This book is like a Pop-...moreThere's not a lot of words I can use to sum up this book. But I think I can use a few to give you an idea: A delightful romp. This book is like a Pop-tart: no nutritional value but so darned good, and lots of fun. At the beginning of the book, you can't help but to ask, "Do people actually live like this?" By the end of the book, it just doesn't matter.
The wives of Hunting Hills, a 'burb of Cleveland, OH, certainly know how to live the "well-maintained" life. Their husbands make money hand over fist, and these women exist to spend it. And it's not just about the outward trappings; there's a whole code of conduct. So, as they are wearing their Gucci and Manolo Blahniks, renovating their kitchens, carting their children to expensive private schools and rushing to meet their life coaches, they must also do certain things: Look, act, be busy, and complain about being busy. Eat voraciously on social occasions and starve yourself after. Spin everything into a positive light. Don't read serious books at your book club. Don't reveal where you got your gorgeous clothes. Make perfection your career. Cosmetic surgery is de rigeur.
And into this atmosphere of perfection walks the newest Hunting Hills wife: Claire, a 40-year-old Amazon from the hills of West Virginia, a well-traveled journalist who has made budgeting and independence a life form. She and her wealthy, intellectual Hunting Hills husband John are madly in love...but as it turns out, Marti, the leader of the Wives, is madly in love with John and has her target trained upon him.
But trouble comes in many forms, and as Claire gets to know these vapid, materialistic wives, she begins to appreciate that not all is as it should be. One husband makes his wife take a walk on the lesbian side; another is a habitual cheater; yet another is robbing his wife, and all of their friends, blind. As Claire gets more and more involved in their lives and ordeals, she somehow becomes one of them, yet also transfigures them into something more.
Best quote: "I don't like when women think. It usually costs me money."
Reminds me of Olivia Goldsmith's Switcheroo in terms of suburban setting, and descriptions of suburban domestic life and scarcely-believable domestic drama.(less)
Over the course of her research on her previous book on obituaries, the author noticed an interesting little quirk: of the many fascinating obituaries...moreOver the course of her research on her previous book on obituaries, the author noticed an interesting little quirk: of the many fascinating obituaries that she read, it seemed like librarians were more than usually the subject of the most lively, fascinating, and sometimes even odd obituaries. In true writerly fashion, the author made note of this and eventually returned to this subject. The product is this book, which is not just a study of librarians, but Library Culture as well.
It’s a great window onto the current library culture zeitgeist, poised as it is (as it always is?) of tremendous change. It’s a description of the bloggers and activists and zinesters and information professionals and geeks and hipsters who make up a vocal—if not large—portion of the profession. It’s a revelation about the continued tensions between the librarians and the technology and techies upon whom they depend. It’s a glimpse into libraries both big and less-big (rural libraries get only a little notice, but I suppose a book can only be so big) and it’s a celebration of the inherently subversive and democratic nature of the profession.
It should be required reading for first-semester Library Science students. They should read it, and if they do not agree with it, they should really re-think their chosen career. And if one is already a librarian, this is a great book for renewing one’s professional fervor. However, this book is almost wasted on librarians. I mean, most of us know, deep down, how awesome we are. But the tragedy of it is, I have to wonder how many non-librarians (or non-library-users) would read this book. I fear that it’s a classic case of “preaching to the choir.” And it’s a dang shame, because it’s really a rather inspiring book! Certainly interesting and informative, too. So, basically, everything a good nonfiction book should be. (less)