Thanks to Laura H., who left a comment on my blog about a year ago recommending Gerald Durrell’s books, I have a new favorite book…or books. (I am planning to read all of Durrell’s books as soon as I can get my hands on them.)
My Family and Other Animals combines my two favorite things: nature and good storytelling. In this book (and its sequels), Durrell writes about an idyllic time he spent with his family on the island of Corfu, off the coast of Greece, during the late 1930s when he was about ten years old. He was a budding naturalist, and on this island, he had the freedom to roam on his own and spend hours watching and studying the insects, birds and other animals he found. He collected dozens of specimens, much to the bewilderment and sometimes horror of his family, but somehow they put up with his little zoo. Actually, I think it was his mother who was the champion and allowed him the freedom and space to keep his animals.
Reading his long passages about the wildlife on Corfu was enough to make me fall in love with this book, but that is just icing on the cake. He also writes about each of his family members, who were quirky and moody, and it all adds up to one hilarious book. Whether or not you enjoy reading nature books, you’ll probably enjoy this memoir of a boy’s candid memories of his family, who make every other family appear normal. Durrell’s memories are those of a clear-headed, thoughtful, and innocent ten-year-old child, yet he writes in a beautiful prose that only an adult could master.
I have read the second book in his trilogy, Birds, Beasts and Relatives, and it’s more of the same — delightful and funny. I haven’t yet been able to get my hands on the third book, Garden of the Gods, or as it’s been renamed, Fauna and Family. If you haven’t read any of the books yet, however, you may just want to buy the Corfu Trilogy, which combines all three books.
In the first two books, and probably others, you may be a little shocked to read how Durrell trapped and kept his animals, and though he didn’t mean to hurt them, sometimes they would die. This was actually a common practice among naturalists and researchers in the past, but it’s not common practice anymore. However, it’s because of Durrell’s love of nature and his great efforts to study animals up close as a child that he became a beloved naturalist, conservationist, zookeeper, and spokesperon as an adult. He created the Durrell Wildlife Park and Durrell Wildlife Conversation Trust, which tirelessly works to help animals who are at risk for going extinct.
The other book that Laura recommended to me is Durrell’s The Amateur Naturalist. It’s more of a field guide for naturalists, or in some ways, it’s a naturalist’s memoir of different habitats. (Minus the funny parts about his family.) It’s a beautiful book, and I keep it by my bed when I need a little nature in my nighttime reading. I’ll write about it someday too.
All of these books I plan to give to my son to read when he’s a little older. Right now, I think some of the British humor would go over his head, and he probably would not have the patience to read The Amateur Naturalist. But these books will always be on my bookshelf, and they will always be on my “highly recommended” book list.
Have you read any of Durrell’s books? What is your favorite?