Tuesday, March 27, 2012

If Walls Could Talk by Lucy Worsley

    "Why did the flushing toilet take two centuries to catch on?  Why did strangers share their beds?  And why did rich people fear fruit?"  Such are the questions that Lucy Worsley addresses in her new book, If Walls Could Talk.  Worsley's research visits an assortment of subjects - "from sauce-stirring to breastfeeding, teeth-cleaning to masturbation, getting dressed to getting married."  This book will bring out the shameless voyeur that's in all of us and, like me, you might find yourself captivated by accounts of medieval birthing techniques and completely engrossed by the history of the bathroom.

   If Walls Could Talk explores the history of the room - specifically the bedroom, bathroom, living room, and kitchen to reveal "what people actually did" in these domestic spaces.  Worsley's findings are incredibly fascinating and the book is very readable.  I was not quite as transfixed by the kitchen and living room chapters as I was with the bedroom and bathroom chapters, but then again, who wouldn't be more entertained by the evolution of underwear than the story of the dishwasher?  Even so, I really enjoyed reading this book as Worsley traces the history of domestic life from pre-medieval times to present day amenities.  It's almost like taking a tour of historical English homes and castles without ever having to leave the couch!

   If Walls Could Talk is a book that would appeal to just about everyone's taste in some way or another.  Elements of history, interior design, sociology, gender studies, and plain old curiosity fill the book's pages, as well as dozens of photos that add a whole new dimension to the text.

   Those familiar with Worsley's work in the U.K. might know that she also hosts a BBC television series of the same title.  I have not seen the show yet, but after reading the book I feel compelled to get ahold of its visual companion.  Lucy Worsley is a great researcher and historian, but what makes this book so fascinating is her talent for storytelling.  If every history text book were written by Lucy Worsley, we'd see many more children listing "historian" and "curator" as their future occupations.

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