Altogether, in 2013 I read just over 50 books. Most of them were free ebooks that I had found on Amazon's kindle shop, and although there were a few that I could have done without, I quite enjoyed a lot of them and do not regret having spent time with them.
The first book I finished this year (last night, to be precise) was "American Woman's Home", written by sisters Catharine Esther Beecher and Harriet Beecher-Stowe (the latter being best known for "Uncle Tom's Cabin", I suppose). By far the largest portion of this book I read during December 2013.
"American Woman's Home" was published in 1869 and covers all imaginable subjects that matter to the smooth running of a household and the raising of a family, from floorplans to the ideal home to the care of animals, healthy cooking to the care of servants, domestic amusements and social duties to sewing, cutting and mending, ending with a chapter about "The Christian Neighbourhood" and an "Appeal to American Women".
This book is a huge source of information on what daily life in an average home could have been like in those days. It talks about both what the authors deem bad household management and what they recommend. Two things featuring prominently throughout the book are fresh air and Christian principles. There are some bits sounding rather advanced and modern for the times, but also bits that seem quite weird to us now, but are presented in such seriousness that they made me laugh and shudder at the same time.
For instance, while Catharine Beecher was a strong advocat for women's rights in that she thought all women should be able to work for their own livelihood, and that domestic work was just as important as any business conducted in the world out there, she did not think it fitting for women to go into politics. To her, men and women had different roles assigned to them by god and nature, and the way to happiness was adhering to those roles.
In the book, mothers are encouraged to teach both their daughters and sons how a household is run successfully, how to cook, mend clothes, plant fruit and vegetables, and so on, so there is not the strict separation of tasks into male and female, as you'd expect from a writer in 1869.
The wikipedia article about her is quite interesting.
For me, the chapters talking about the ideal home, how it should be laid out, furnished and decorated, were the most interesting ones. While doing research for this review, I came across this blog post with pictures and excerpts from the book.
My free kindle edition does not contain any pictures, so I was happy to find the complete work with illustrations elsewhere, and I have nicked some of them for my post.
It was an interesting book and made me glad once more for living where, when and how I live! Back then, managing a household involved so much more work than nowadays with all our modern appliances and ready-made products. One really wonders how come people are so "stressed out" all the time, when in reality they have so much more free time as people did back then.