My Family And Other Animals, by Gerald Durrell

Second paragraph of third chapter:

We ate breakfast out in the garden, under the small tangerine-trees. The sky was fresh and shining, not yet the fierce blue of noon, but a clear milky opal. The flowers were half-asleep, roses dew-crumpled, marigolds still tightly shut. Breakfast was, on the whole, a leisurely and silent meal, for no member of the family was very talkative at that hour. By the end of the meal the influence of the coffee, toast, and eggs made itself felt, and we started to revive, to tell each other what we intended to do, why we intended to do it, and then argue earnestly as to whether each had made a wise decision. I never joined in these discussions, for I knew perfectly well what I intended to do, and would concentrate on finishing my food as rapidly as possible.

As a teenager, I read several of Gerald Durrell’s autobiographical notes on collecting animals in Africa with great interest and enthusiasm. Nowadays I’m not so sure about the ethics of bringing animals out of their home environments, to which they are well adapted, to be gawked at by Europeans in cages. I’m sure that there are good arguments to be made on both sides.

Anyway, this is the story of Durrell’s childhood on the island of Corfu, as the youngest of a large family who settled there in the 1930s. He was already a keen collector of animals, and clearly drove his eccentric relatives mad with the inevitable domestic accidents that took place. But it’s a very affectionate portrait of an untroubled childhood, even if it leans a little too much on the funny foreigners that happen to live in foreign parts. You can get it here.

This was both my top unread non-fiction book, and my top unread book acquired last year. Next on those piles are A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived, by Adam Rutherford, and The Man Who Died Twice, by Richard Osman.