Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Book Reviews | Memoirs & Nonfiction

My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell tells of his adventures during the five years he spent with his mother and three siblings on the Greek island of Corfu. He was ten years old when they moved there from the UK in 1935. 

The author had an obsession with animals, and he collected quite a menagerie over the years (maypies, terrapin, snakes, dogs, etc). His oldest brother Larry was a writer; his older sister Margo was a teenager at that time, mostly worried about her appearance; and his other brother Lesley enjoyed guns and shooting. Their Mom was quite laid back and didn't let their varying interests and adventures upset her. 

During their time on Corfu, they lived in three different villas, each with its own unique characteristics and animal species. This was a FUN easy read incorporating the family's hilarious activities and arguments as well as the author's adventures hunting animals and learning from his various tutors. I definitely recommend it!

An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth by Col Chris Hadfield tells the story of the author's life, career path, and the three missions he flew in space (the last one as commander of the International Space Station). Col Hadfield was a Canadian astronaut, and this memoir/life lessons guide is very well-written, weaving the author's life story in with the three missions. It's a very interesting read that I definitely recommend.

The great chapter titles are FUN and give a hint to the lessons: Have An Attitude, The Power of Negative Thinking, What's the Next Thing That Could Kill Me?, How to Get Blasted (and Feel Good the Next Day).

The book really demonstrates how much of an astronaut's life is in training and supporting, moving up and down the ladder of "importance" depending on who's scheduled for the next mission. The secret, according to Hadfield, is to enjoy the training. He gives this analogy - "the appeal was similar to that of a New York Times crossword puzzle: training is hard and fun and stretches my mind, so I feel good when I persevere and finish - and I also feel ready to do it all over again."

One of my favorite lessons was about "attitude." Attitude in space is the orientation of the spaceship relative to the sun, the earth, and other spacecraft. It's vital not to lose control of the spaceship's attitude because "the vehicle starts to tumble, disorienting everyone on board, and it also strays from its course, which ... could mean the difference between life and death." So, they must monitor attitude constantly and adjust when necessary - good advice for our attitudes in everyday life as well!

He spent several years in Houston at the Johnson Space Center, so when he was asked to take a position in Star City, Russia, he said, "To a Canadian who'd managed to acclimatize to the drawl and humidity of Gulf Coast Texas ... the chance to live in yet another foreign country for a few years sounded exciting."

After the author's last space mission, he was often asked what was next in life for him and could anything compare to his experiences as an astronaut. His reply was that "a high octane experience only enriches the rest of your life." He currently speaks and writes and continues to promote the space program - you can learn more about him on his website HERE and or watch his TEDTalk - What I learned from going blind in space

The Library Book by Susan Orlean is another very interesting and informative read. This book is about the Los Angeles Public Library fire in 1986, but it really contains three story lines.

1. The timeline and details of the 1986 fire and the investigation of Harry Peak (the number one suspect, although no concrete evidence led to him being formally charged).

2. The history of the Los Angeles Public Library and its librarians beginning in the late 1800s to present day. There are lots of insights along the way into the variety of items available in libraries and the various functions of a library and the adaptations of libraries as technology changed and became more dominant.

3. The author's visits to the library and the time she spent with various librarians over the years she researched and wrote this book.

There was no chapter titles. Instead, the titles of four books were listed at the beginning of each chapter, giving a clue to the contents to follow. I thought this was ingenious! Another book I'd recommend.

Have you read any of these books? Please share your thoughts in the comments.


  1. I love Gerald Durrell books, we visited his zoo in Jersey which changed how animals were treated in zoos, a wonderful experience.

  2. I have read most of the Gerald Durrell books, I think My Family & Other Animals is the one that made me laugh the most. I was wanting to like the Masterpiece series but just cannot warm up the characters as I did in the books.

  3. The Library Book is on my TBR list; I'm unfamiliar with the other two. Memoir is one of my favorite genres.


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