Books in Brief: If Walls Could Talk: An Intimate History of the Home
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Lucy Worsley wrote If Walls Could Talk: An Intimate History of the Home after doing a television program on the history of what it was like to live in the past in Britain. She’s the chief curator at Historic Royal Palaces, the caretaker of many castles and relics of noblesse gone by. She covers the history of bedroom, the bathroom, the living room, and the kitchen, starting from the 11th century and ending in the now.
This book is not A Distant Mirror, but it doesn’t try to be. It covers much more, and falls in the genre of rapid fire facts framed in a fun and engaging way. It’s written in a conversational tone and is fun and engaging without being heavy. At the same time I found myself wishing for just a little more detail in many places, and some bibliographic information.
I read it before going to bed every night for the last month or so, and it really made me appreciate the modern conveniences both in our terrible old rented 1950s house and those that have spread through society, like running water. One cold night the water main on our street broke and we were without running water for a day, and our electric baseboard heating and horrible postwar newspaper insulation couldn’t keep up with the -11°F temperature outside. (When tussling with the cold, upstate New York really doesn’t have its shit together compared to Wisconsin.) Reading Worsley’s book gave me a sense of communion with the people of the past as we tried to sleep in our 59°F house, some semblance of empathetic comfort while I read under a down duvet, something that didn’t even exist in the english-speaking world until the 1970s.