If Walls Could Talk: An Intimate History of the Home
I’m not as likely to pick up a nonfiction book as I am a good sci fi epic or a sweeping fantasy, but I do have a weakness for oddball histories. This particular book falls perfectly into that category. Part of the reason I tend to avoid nonfiction is that I don’t have the time (or sometimes the ability to stay awake) to slog through page after page of dryly laid out facts. Worsley sidesteps this problem marvelously. Instead of narrowing down her focus and analyzing one thing in detail, she takes a wide variety of home themed topics and covers them lightly. Now, when I say lightly, I really want to emphasize that that’s what makes this book so successful. Worsley does a remarkable job of never taking the topics too seriously, but instead treats them with the light humor that they all deserve. How can one discuss using hay as toilet paper and not chuckle a bit (there’s also some cringing, but only because hay is pokey and toilet paper should never be pokey). I was a little surprised at the number of things I learned from this book, particularly in areas in which I already considered myself informed. Although the book primarily covers the history of the British home, there are glimpses into American and even German homes scattered throughout. All in all, this book is written with a light hearted, wry humor that makes the information that much more interesting.
Why did the flushing toilet take two centuries to catch on? Why did Samuel Pepys never give his mistresses an orgasm? Why did medieval people sleep sitting up? When were the two “dirty centuries”? Why did gas lighting cause Victorian ladies to faint? Why, for centuries, did people fear fruit? All these questions will be answered in this juicy, smelly, and truly intimate history of home life. Lucy Worsley takes us through the bedroom, bathroom, living room, and kitchen, covering the architectural history of each room, but concentrating on what people actually did in bed, in the bath, at the table, and at the stove. From sauce-stirring to breast-feeding, teeth-cleaning to masturbation, getting dressed to getting married, this book will make you see your home with new eyes.
I know you won’t be able to believe it, but I only have one complaint about this book. There are times when the author put herself into historical situations, such as printing wallpaper, and in the book there are usually only one or two sentences about her experiences, usually just to verify that the historical records are accurate. Now, I’m sure she did that because brevity is generally something to be sought after in these situations, but every single time one of these instances popped up, I found myself wanted to know more. I wanted to know why it took years to become proficient at printing wallpaper. Was it because the machine was large and unwieldy or because the ink was difficult to apply to the paper in just the right way? It didn’t have to be a long explanation, but I felt like I needed for one to have been there. It’s pretty cool that Worsley found all of these places that would literally put her into history. I would have very much liked to have read just a little more about these experiences.
Outside of that single complaint, however, I really enjoyed this book. I found the information to be fascinating. The topics covered where both informative and entertaining, which is a very hard balance to achieve in this kind of nonfiction. Due to the pacing of the book, there really isn’t a dull moment. If you’re curious about how home life has evolved over the last millennia, I highly recommend this book in particular.
4 ink bottles.
Character Believability: Not Applicable
Character Investibility: Not Applicable
Pace/Urgency/Tension: 4 Dresdens
Worldbuilding: Not Applicable
Language: 4 Feegles
Mystery: Not Applicable