There’s no place like home
Ask the book buyer about
...reading that explores the meaning of home
Greetings from the book department and welcome back. Last week we celebrated Independent Bookshop Week and it felt particularly poignant to have such lovely messages of support from customers, authors and publishers - thank you!
For me, one beacon that has emerged from these difficult months of isolation and uncertainty, is the number of people, young and old, who have turned to reading for solace, escape, inspiration and solidarity. Books that have lingered on shelves for years have finally been opened, absorbed and shared, and new ones bought. All this from the safety of our homes. And since home is a place we’ve become intensely familiar with recently, it’s the subject I’ve based this book edit around: books about our houses, what home symbolises to us and what it might mean to lose a sense of home.
Beginning as a journey around the rooms of his Norfolk home, which is an 1851 rectory, Bill Bryson meanders across and through subjects, centuries, countries and biographies as he builds a vast and brilliant social history of how we live; the everyday, of home. This is a book for the curious, for the unhurried. Like most of Bryson's writing it is crammed with facts, information and musings, providing what I found an impressive, fascinating dive into British and American history and biographies of inventors, architects and more. It has all of Bryson's conversational, witty style and is exactly why we love him, but if you like your history concise and focused, this is not for you!
Homing: on pigeons, dwelling and why we return
Part science, part nature writing and part biography, this is such a brilliant read that I guarantee will surprise you. As a boy, Jon Day was fascinated by pigeons, so when, as an adult, he moved away from the city and lost a sense of feeling at home, he returned to this obsession with birds. He built a pigeon coop and joined a local pigeon racing club. So yes, it’s a book about pigeons and is very convincing as to why they are an overlooked species. But it’s also about why and how animals have a homing instinct, what we can learn from that and why we are always compelled to return home. I’ll be discussing this book on July 7th, as part of my monthly Radio Norfolk bookclub with Chrissie Jackson, on the first Tuesday of every month.
A House Through Time
David Olusoga and Melanie Backe-Hansen
JARROLD PRICE £17
Whether or not you’ve been watching the BBC TV series this book is based on, it makes for another far-ranging and riveting non-fiction read. As with the TV series, if offers us the tools to explore our own homes and their histories but it also broadens out into a social history of the British city, its rise and fall. It does so through personal histories, human stories that trace links to earlier generations through the four walls they inhabit and beyond into the streets they live in. For anyone interested in family history but also for anyone keen to know more about architecture, social history and what we can learn from examining our own relationships to our homes.
This incredibly powerful novel, winner of an array of literary prizes, considers what it means to be violently uprooted from your home and to spend a lifetime seeking and trying to make peace with a different one. The story traces generations of one family over three hundred years and across two continents as half-sisters Effia and Esi are born into different villages in eighteenth-century Ghana. Effia is married off to a British slaver while Esi is sold into slavery. As their lives diverge, to America for Esi and through centuries of Ghanain warfare for Effia, the legacy of their experiences – of being uprooted, of captivity and slavery – are brought right through to the modern day, where their descendants still grapple with a dangerously tangled sense of home.
A Place Called Home
Cath Kidston’s designs are instantly recognisable: vintage-inspired, pretty, cleverly patterned homeware, clothing, accessories and décor. Founder of the globally successful, eponymous brand this new books invites us on a tour of her Gloucestershire home for the first time, sharing stories, decorating tips and inspirational ideas along the way. Beautifully produced with colour photographs throughout, it ranges through from her Entrance Hall to Summer House, taking in more quirky rooms like the Castle Bedroom and Fish Bathroom. It’s both a lovely coffee table book or gift for someone who loves interior design, as well as practically useful in showing how you can use pattern, colour, fabrics and light to transform a room.
The Dutch House
Now out in paperback, I originally included this novel in my Top 10 of 2019 and can’t resist an opportunity to recommend it again, this time in the context of the house it centres around. Set over five decades in Philadelphia, it is the story of an unshakeable bond between siblings Danny and Maeve, who were exiled as teenagers from their family home, known as the Dutch House, by their stepmother. A dark, angry shadow is cast over the house, which is a character in itself: its decadent high ceilings, inherited Dutch paintings and the wildly lavish statement it makes in the neighbourhood. As Danny and Maeve face the demise of their family, they keep circling back to the house to try and deal with the past.
Prices and availability checked Friday 26 June 2020