We had an assignment recently in my Collection Development class that involved writing a readers’ advisory. I chose to do one on the latest Bill Bryson book, At Home – A Short History of Private Life, which I LOVED. It turns out readers’ advisories are extremely fun to write, so I thought I would post it here and maybe get in the habit of creating them as I get the chance to read recreationally (although I just got approval for my masters paper research, so spare time is not going to be abundant over the next couple of months… it is a really terrible time to be engrossed in Game of Thrones.) Anyway, here is my first stab at a readers’ advisory; please enjoy!
Best-selling author Bill Bryson delivers his masterful weaving of obscure but fascinating historical fact and wry wit yet again in his latest, At Home: A Short History of Private Life. Instead of travelling across the world, this journey takes us from the basement to the attic, with pit-stops in closets, parlors, kitchens, and bathrooms, all in the name of getting at the details of domestic human life so often overlooked or taken for granted. Why do we keep salt and pepper at the table, rather than paprika or coriander? Just how novel is the arrangement of your living room furniture? In answering these questions, Bryson is able to describe little known—and often peculiar—pivotal events and innovative individuals that most history texts pass by.
Similar to the author’s other works, the pacing is a sprightly meander peppered with delightfully arcane detail and a running narrative of the author’s own jocular commentary. Read it all in a few sittings, or come back to it chapter by chapter; jumping in at a particularly interesting term from the index or intriguingly titled chapter will prove just as enjoyable as reading cover-to-cover. The level of detail is high, but not prohibitively so, and Bryson does a great job keeping things grounded, fun to read, and makes many connections throughout the text. This book is recommended for public, private, and academic collections, for anyone who enjoys history, trivia, and collecting peculiar or esoteric facts, and for fans of Bryson’s previous works. As the author says in his introduction, “…whatever happens in the world—whatever is discovered or created or bitterly fought over—eventually ends up, in one way or another, in your house.” Read about the objects that surround you every day, and learn some strange history along the way!
Reflection on Review Criteria
Since this is a non-fiction work by a best-selling author, it seemed prudent for the review to focus on readability in terms of pacing, narrative tone, density, and audience. Although it is non-fiction, it is not designed as a go-to reference source. A brief mention of the index and the ability of chapters to lead into one another or stand alone will suffice, with the most emphasis placed on elements of readability listed above. Focusing on the author’s tone in terms of his wry humor and delight in bringing obscure and strange historical fact to light is important information for readers deciding whether or not they will enjoy him as an author. Bryson’s presence in his own books is indelible, so describing his role and ever-present narrative voice is useful information; if you don’t like Bill Bryson’s personality, you will not like his books. The selected criteria is evaluative, and it gives the reader not only an idea of what the book’s content is like, but what it feels like to read. J.G. Saricks’ assigned chapters on creating a readers advisory proved to be especially useful when selecting criteria to focus on (citation below.)
Saricks, J. G. (2005). Articulating a book’s appeal. In Readers’ advisory services in the public library (3rd ed., pp. 40-73. Chicago: American Library Association.