I have somewhere on this blog a list of my very favorite books. Thinking this is a natural for a blog that gets very writerly, is often about reading, and has as its original motivation working at a library, I have even done a few things to make my list a kind of central pillar of my blog. So while the initial feature of this list is really just to say what books I've loved, it is also growing into a kind of a central station for my blog itself. Find a book that interests you on the list, and, if you click on it, you'll be off to a blog post about that book, or a blog post sort of about that book, or a blog post that feels like that book, or a blog post with an incredibly tenuous connection to that book. It is a vast, interlinking, self referential, Internet book list, and anyone new to my blog would be well served by poking around there for a few hundred hours to get acquainted with the history of this blog, or to have the most fun they ever had, or whatever. I mean, that is, if I ever had new people on my blog. Which I don't, because they have been unable to pass the test. You have passed the test. Alas, they have not. But there is always hope for these poor, deficient, other people. It's not that hard of a test! At least I don't think so. Did you find the test hard?
But as I build this list and interlink it to my past essays I run into issues. For instance, what if I write a post that I'm really pleased with, and it's sort of about a book, but I only just like the book, or the book is on the borderline of love, or maybe just, well, the jury in my heart is still out, sitting in a room somewhere unable to come to a consensus opinion? My solution with something like this is to get it out on the list, but to make its sometimes highly qualified status known.
My most recent issue like this has had to do with this question: What if I pick up one of these treasured old loves of my past reading self, featured sunnily on my fancy list, read it again and think "What the hell?!"
People change. Even me!
The book in question here is My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell. I just finished it and, while I can clearly see what charmed me about it when I was younger, indeed there are parts of it that I am still charmed by, I also am now unable to look away from its many problems in a sufficient manner to allow me to love it so unreservedly.
My Family and Other Animals is a memoir about an eccentric English family of independent means who, between the World Wars, go off to live on an idyllic Greek Island called Corfu. It is told from the perspective of the youngest in the family, the only one who really was still a grade school kid, Gerry. He was a largely fearless, absolutely animal crazy kid for whom Corfu was heaven. The descriptions of the Island and fauna can be wonderful, and the sense of adventure is charming. I love how Gerry seems to run into idiosyncratic but always delightful and helpful people on the island. It's like his unrestrained interest in everything that walks, crawls, swims and flies, brings out the best qualities in himself and his dog and everyone he runs into.
So, good enough so far. This all is why I remembered the book so fondly from younger days.
Oh, but sometimes.
First of all there is the problem of Gerry having to catch and capture and own every damn animal! I don't suppose I shout much at books, or, maybe I do, but more in my head, and at this one I often enough found myself sort of shouting at young Gerry "Just leave the beautiful animal alone! It is a hundred year old magnificent Tortoise! It does not want to live in your bedroom!" I suppose it should be no surprise then that our author grew up to be a zookeeper. I'm afraid though that's rather like saying "Our author grew up to be the Warden at a jail for innocent people." I just had a hard time getting all that out of my head, maybe because it belonged in my head while I was reading the thing.
My other difficulty was Gerry's family. I think they always reminded me a bit of my own family, only better. It's just that there was plenty of room with my family for a different family to be better than mine before that family was actually good. I quite like stories about eccentric families, but I find they tend to fall into one of two categories. The first I will call the Addams Family version because they're such an excellent example. This eccentric family is underpinned by harmony and love. They delight, whether quietly or loudly, in the qualities, pursuits, natures, and successes of their relatives. Their eccentricity issues from their centeredness, their pure love and interest standing in contrast to received ideologies, that is, in contrast to the often false and self serving ideas of our culture, and social norms. They are not normal. They don't do things the way we assume things should be done, and they are better for it. The other kind of family is clever, antagonistic, and often playfully at odds with one another. Except the playfulness is sometimes just a disguise for being mean. Alliances shift among them, they sometimes come together against outside forces, but while they may or may not like to suggest their bond is, deep down, really love, it never feels like it. And love is a feeling, so if it doesn't feel like it I don't believe it. Sadly, the eccentric family in My Family and Other Animals is rather far more in this latter category than the enchanting and more rare Addams Family version.
So, yes, a good and bad book. It is sort of recommended, once loved, now more... mixed. Do I take it off the list?
After I can link it to this post? I don't think so!