January 12, 2017

Gerald Durrell, His Family and Other Animals

"My Family and Other Animals." That was the title of the book sitting on the counter. Made me smile. I can honestly say I picked up the book simply because I liked the title.

It was 1975. I was 14 years old, living in Calcutta. I didn't have access to a library or enough money. So access to books was limited. I had an aunt who read, but she was kind of mean, not the sharing type. She was rich and had books but she never let me borrow them. Could have had something to do with her lipsticks.

If you twist a lipstick open and then close the lid on it, it gets stuck and messy. When you yank open the lid the lipstick opens with a plop sound. It doesn't really work as a lipstick at that point, but I had no need for lipsticks and I loved that sound. Four year old me tried to repeat that sound with all of her lipsticks. She never shared her books with me. I can't blame her. Anyone who has such an irrational love of the plop sound surely can't be trusted to take care of books.

No library and not enough money meant that my source of books was a rental bookstore. The older me realizes that this enterprise was definitely illegal. They would buy books, reinforce the binding and rent them out. A book in India at that time could cost about 20 rupees. But you could rent a newly released book for two days for 2.50 rupees (additional days required .50 rupees each). Older books were cheaper and you could keep them longer. The selection was predominantly fiction. There were different categories of books, the Robert Ludlum was expensive, the Mills and Boon was not. My mother and I were good customers of this shop in the neighborhood. It was illegal because you are not supposed to make money renting out a book. It is a violation of the copyright laws, but those things were unknown and didn't mean much to a person who was just looking to read some books.


That bookstore is where I found the book "My Family and Other Animals." It was written by a guy called Gerald Durrell, I didn't know anything about him. But the title got me. I took it home.

Evenings consisted of homework and then reading whatever book was available. Black and white TV was available in India at that point, but my family couldn't afford a TV set. You don't miss what you don't know about, so I didn't miss TV. I loved my books. Gerald Durrell transported me into the world of Corfu. I didn't know where that was. A look at the atlas and I found out that it was a Greek island. I didn't know much about the Greeks either, but I had heard of Plato and Aristotle. This was bound to be eye-opening.

I loved the characters. I loved the eccentricities of the British. No one does eccentric like the British. I laughed. I cried. I learned about exotic insects. It was an enthralling experience. I devoured the next book in the series, "Birds, Beasts, and Relatives."

I introduced my mean aunt to the books. She reciprocated by actually letting me borrow a book by James Herriot. I am going to talk about him and his books in a later post.

I find that the Corfu books are a trilogy. They are available at Amazon, here.

If you want, you can catch the stories in the TV series, The Durrell's in Corfu. The complete first season is available here.

I prefer the books but you can't go wrong with either.

As you can tell by now, I heartily recommend them.

macosxguru at the gmail thingie


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