I am doing a project since end of last year, where I am picking the oldest unread books on my shelf and deciding whether I want to read them or sell them. I now realized that having a huge pile of unread books isn’t a very good thing as our taste in books keeps evolving.
Books that I would have read 6 years back and given 5 stars to, might not even get 2 stars now. When you have only read 50 or 100 books in your life, you think they are the best books ever written and give 5 stars to every one of them generously. But after reading 1000+ books, you become more critical since you may have read a book better than this one. So the rating for books becomes comparative and you become more and more critical so it is not easy for a book to impress you. I now also know what kind of books interest me in general and have been picky about the kind of books I read. But all those books lying on the shelf from years together weren’t picked with my taste in mind so most of them are getting 1 star or 2 stars.
I had expected this book to fall into that realm but I could not be more wrong. After having this book sit on my shelf for 6-7 years, I finally picked it up and read it. And LOVED it! The book is absolutely hilarious. The book about a boy with his love for animals and an eccentric family makes for a delightful read. I made the mistake of watching the TV series based on this book first and upon finding the series boring, I expected something similar from the book but this book was amazing!
Now that I am into nature journaling and natural history myself, I found all the talk about natural history in this book very exciting. I even sketched and wrote quotes from the book into my journal. The book is about ten year old Gerald Durrell (the author himself) who spends 5 years in Corfu island in Greece with his family. The book is a memoir about the adventures of his family and about his interests in animals, bugs and birds on the island. Right from their driver Spiro to Theodore, peasants and fishermen – I ended up loving every single character in this book. Everyone was so interesting in their own way. I wish I could spend some time in an island with such sweet people.
I hate bugs and I am scared of them but when the author talks about insects in this book, I found them to be rather fascinating. The author might have made me lose some fear for insects by narrating his encounters with them. He ends up acquiring so many pets on the island – from a gull (which his brother claims is an albatross. That scene had me laughing out loud) to magpies and dogs to water snakes and scorpions. His family is very wary as they find scorpions on dining table or snakes in bath tub. The house is full of animals and bugs. You cannot help but laugh at how scared and aghast his family is. Gerry on the other hand, finds friends on the island who are equally fascinated with natural history and help him in identifying critters and creatures on the island.
He pores over nature journals, keeps a daily diary where he notes down everything about the animals he finds which no doubt provided all the material for this book. He gets his brother to build a boat for him and rows to nearby islands to collect specimens for his study. It is really great seeing someone being so deeply invested in natural history. Dodo the dog was so cute and the scene with her following their mother was so endearing. Now I feel like owning a pet animal myself.
The writing just draws you in and it is difficult to put this book down even though it is a non-fiction. I had a hard time putting it down every time I had to do some other work or chore. The only reason why I gave this 4 stars, instead of 5 stars is that I do not like the idea of keeping animals in cages for the purpose of “studying” them. I would rather study them in their natural habitat, in the wild where they are free and are not imprisoned by humans. Gerry keeps putting birds in cages and refuses to let them out even when they are squawking and are unhappy in their cages. He snatches baby birds from their mothers or steals eggs from mothers which I found disturbing to read. Love for animals should have made him realize how harmful some of his actions were for the animals themselves. Animals need not necessarily enjoy his company just because he liked theirs.
The boy in this book was 10 years old and probably innocent. But the author when he wrote the book was old enough to realize that some of his actions were not very humane. He could have added a note at the end about it but he didn’t. Killing animals just to do taxidermy on them sounds hideous, so is imprisoning bugs in a tiny box. Also there are some racist lines or passages in the books as it was okay to be a racist when this book was written.
Other then these complaints, the book was a perfect escapist read. I learnt more about animals from this book than from any other book. There are so many interesting facts about animals that Gerry figures out. You can’t help but wonder at everything that nature has to offer. Nature is indeed very beautiful. I can’t wait to read the other two books in this series.