Summary and book reviews of Timothy by Verlyn Klinkenborg

Timothy

Notes of an Abject Reptile

By Verlyn Klinkenborg

Timothy

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Book Summary

Few writers have attempted to explore the natural history of a particular animal by adopting the animal’s own sensibility. But Verlyn Klinkenborg—with his deeply empathetic relation to the world around him—has done just that, and done it brilliantly, in Timothy.

This is the story of a tortoise whose real life was observed by the eighteenth-century English curate Gilbert White, author of The Natural History of Selborne. For thirteen years, Timothy lived in White’s garden—making an occasional appearance in his journals. Now Klinkenborg gives the tortoise an unforgettable voice and powers of observation as keen as those of any bipedal naturalist. The happy result: Timothy regales us with an account of a gracefully paced (no unseemly hurry!) eight-day adventure outside the gate (“How do I escape from that nimble-tongued, fleet-footed race? . . . Walk through the holes in their attention”) and entertains us with shrewd observations about the curious habits and habitations of humanity. “To humans,” Timothy says with doleful understanding, “in and out are matters of life and death. Not to me. Warm earth waits just beneath me. . . . The humans’ own heat keeps them from sensing it.”

Wry and wise, unexpectedly moving, and enchanting at every—careful—turn, Timothy will surprise and delight readers of all ages.

I was gone for more than a week before they found me. A rustling in the bean-field, heavy steps nearby. A shout--the boy's voice--more shouts. Thomas catches me up in his hands with sickening haste. I weigh six pounds thirteen ounces. He lifts me as though I weigh nothing at all.

Ground breaks away. May wind shivers in my ears. My legs churn the sky on their own. I look down on bean-tops. Down on the blunt ends of sheep-bitten grasses. Over one field, into the next, into the hop-garden beyond. Past thatch and tiles, past maypole, past gilded cock on the church tower. All in my eye, all at once. So far to see.

Goody Hammond and Daniel Wheeler's boy totter forward beside Thomas. Great warm two-legged beasts. Stilt-gaited like the rest of their kind. The boy prances backward, eyeing me closely. Bland watery orbs, fringed with pale hair. Cavernous mouth. Halloos as though I were the king's stag being drawn through the village in a deer-cart.

My week gone in two-score ...

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Reviews

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This is a small volume that cannot be hurried, and at the moment my life is too frenetic to enjoy something that needs to be read at tortoise-speed. However, I will certainly be keeping it on the shelf to look forward to in calmer days when I can appreciate Timothy's wisdom more fully.   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

Full Review Members Only (563 words).

Media Reviews
Author Blurb Kent Haruf, author of Plainsong
Verlyn Klinkenborg has imagined his way into the spirit and voice of a long-dead turtle. If only we humans were as wise as Klinkenborg's ancient female - as calm as she in adversity, as poetic in our speech, as perceptive and patient about all that happens around us. Timothy is a terrific book, an astonishing feat of the imagination.

Author Blurb Barry Lopez, author of Arctic Dreams
Timothy is a luminous act of imagination and perspective. In reframing Gilbert White's A Natural History of Selbourne, Klinkenborg dramatizes a set of human values and prejudices as portentous as those Orwell addressed in Animal Farm. A clarion call to reconsider our place, our tack, in the modern world.

Kirkus Reviews

A dazzling riff on human beings and their weird ways 'written' by an 18th-century tortoise...On virtually every page there is a phrase or sentence that entertains or amuses or informs...Timothy the tortoise is a splendid social critic, a keen-eyed anthropologist who sees far beyond his shell.

Terry Tempest Williams, author of The Open Space of Democracy

Timothy is a disarming, original book. Part memoir, part poetry, and part philosophy, Verlyn Klinkenborg has written a natural history of empathy. Through the mind of a tortoise, boundaries between species dissolve and anthropocentric assumptions shatter, as we are led to examine and explore our cruelty, compassion and curiosity as human beings. This is a narrative of great heart and brave talent. Because of Timothy, I feel the world differently.

Los Angeles Times

Verlyn Klinkenborg is neither naturalist nor nature poet, but he writes about nature with the science of the former and the soul of the latter. . .To read him is to wonder: How does he notice all those little things? And how does he make all those little things, seemingly meaningless and mundane, add up to such big ideas about beauty, grace, and the mysteries of natural life?

The Washington Times

...what [this] engaging reptile has to say will stay with readers long after they close the pages of this astonishing book...

Publishers Weekly

In a gorgeous hybrid of naturalist observation, novelistic invention and philosophical meditation, Klinkenborg...views the English countryside through the eyes of a tortoise and gives his human readers rich food for thought... This "true story," as Klinkenborg describes it, offers studied, beautiful reflections on the present and memory, earth and weather, love and utility, human and beast. This is a wholly unexpected and astonishing book.

The New York Times

Charming and most enjoyable...Klinkenborg's prose is a pleasure to read.

Chicago Sun-Times

Told in terse sentences that can read like stanzas of poetry. . .this brief but powerful book is unforgettable.

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Beyond the Book

The Natural History & Antiquities of Selborne was first published in 1789 and has gone through many editions since, remaining a favorite amongst nature lovers.  As for Timothy himself, he lived with White from 1780 until White died in 1793.  Timothy died sometime the following year but his shell has been preserved and can be found somewhere in the Natural History Museum in London (a gloriously cavernous Victorian building which is a "must see" for anyone visiting London,...

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