At Home by Bill Bryson Bill Bryson is known for rambling but fascinating non-fiction books, spanning a subjects from travel to astronomy. In this book, he set out to explore a topic closer at hand – his own house, and the history of its rooms. Not just the history of his particular house, though that’s covered, too, but a history of the evolution of the hall from basically the whole building to a minor passageway and the introduction of the dining room. I’d been putting off reading Bill Bryson, though I’d heard good reviews from multiple friends. This was fascinating. People, landscapes and ideas weave in and out of the book, as well as the development of ideas like privacy, comfort, and the beauty of nature. Who knew that centuries of the English language went by before the word “comfort” as regards to physical comfort even came up? We also learn about an ancient Mesopotamian (I think) city which, truly amazingly, featured no streets, but only houses built layers deep on top of each other. Neat, I say, and while I’m not rushing out to read everything Bryson has written this very second, I’ll definitely keep him in mind for the future, both for myself and for people looking for a good book. Especially a good book for listening to on a car trip kind of thing, because this seems like the kind of listening that could interest nearly everyone.
A note on ebooks:
It used to be that when someone did a catalog search and came up with an ebook as a result, they would come to the desk to ask what an ebook was and go away in some frustration when I told them. I got this book initially because I was determined, now that patrons ask nearly every day about using our downloadable ebooks, to try some myself. I tried both text and audio ebooks. I’d initially thought that I would prefer the audio books. I listen to audiobooks all the time on my commute, and switch between books for myself and my son, hoping for the books that have tracks every three minutes rather than once a chapter or every minute (leading to 90-track discs), and also hoping that I can remember which track we’re both on. The audio books had some problems, mostly related to my situation. My car doesn’t have a way to plug the iPod player in directly, and the radio transmitter has lower sound quality than the regular radio. The books from the service show up as music. I think for that reason, if I stop in the middle of a track to, say, switch to music until the baby goes to sleep, I haven’t found a way to mark where I was in the track. With podcasts, I can switch back and forth to music without losing my place in the podcast. Also, I wasn’t able to figure out how to get the wma-encoded audio books on my iPod through my Mac, though the instructions said this was possible, and the selection of mp3 books is quite limited. I know, I could always go to Audible.com, but I really like borrowing rather than buying books if I’m only going to read them once.
I was quite pleasantly surprised, though, by the text ebook experience. Once I’d figured out the process, it was quite easy to use. I can set it up to read while I eat (my usual reading time), and even a 600 page book is light enough to hold while nursing the baby. Sure, the library’s collection hasn’t yet caught up to the sudden surge in demand – and ebook publishers haven’t yet figured out a model that would let multiple people check out the same digital book at the same time, because that would make things too easy. But the book was easy enough to find and quite nice to use. Even if I still love the feel of a physical book.