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Page Turner: Engineer finds Bryson’s English humor is good reading

Saturday, October 12, 2013 - 12:01 am

Editor's note: This week's Page Turner reader interview is with Todd Crago, a new products engineer at PHD.

“For work, I am reading 'Manufacturing, Engineering & Technology,' by Serope Kalpakjian. A lot of my reading is also related to my working on a degree.

“In other reading, I prefer nonfiction, and I particularly like author Bill Bryson. He is English, though he did live in the United States for a while. He has written all kinds of stuff. I just finished his 'At Home: A Short History of Private Life.' Basically, he describes room for room the history of how things in a home came about. He bought a rectory, an Anglican church.

“You must understand that in Great Britain over the centuries the first-born son in the nobility inherited the title and position and wealth. The second son in nobility circles usually went into the clergy, which was considered upper class. In the 1500s to the 1700s that could be a life of leisure. There were books of sermons available and one was not called on to be a man of God.

Buying a rectory and its grounds could create wealth, depending on the worth of the land. So they started selling off rectories.

“If one crawled up into the attic there was a wonderful view. Now the author turns to the features in a house. He explains the drawing room in England as a formal room, unlike here. It was really formal, from which one withdrew. Around the time of the Industrial Revolution the upper class had kitchens away from the dining rooms. Why? Because there were servants, lots of servants – footmen, the butler, scullery maids – and houses were built around the servants.

“Bryson writes about the people's private lives, like they didn't bathe very often. Splashing water on the face was enough. And they used chamber pots. The water closet was often located on the landing. There were few windows because there was a tax on windows and they wanted to keep the price down. Arsenic was in the paint and wallpaper and put out toxic fumes. As you know arsenic and lead, which was also used, have a bad effect, especially on kids, so there was a lot of walking in the fresh air.

“One of my favorite of his books is 'A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail.' He writes with dry English humor, which I really like. His style makes for a good read. I recommend Bill Bryson's books.”