About Me

Ithaca, New York
MWF, now officially 42, loves long walks on the beach and laughing with friends ... oh, wait. By day, I'm a mid-level university administrator reluctant to be more specific on a public forum. Nights and weekends, though, I'm a homebody with strong nerdist leanings. I'm never happier than when I'm chatting around the fire, playing board games, cooking up some pasta, and/or road-tripping with my family and friends. I studied psychology and then labor economics in school, and I work in higher education. From time to time I get smug, obsessive, or just plain boring about some combination of these topics, especially when inequality, parenting, or consumer culture are involved. You have been warned.

Friday, May 4, 2012

#41: We Bought a Zoo

We Bought a Zoo: The Amazing True Story of a Young Family, a Broken Down Zoo, and the 200 Wild Animals That Change Their Lives Forever, by Benjamin Mee (New York: Weinstein Books, 2008)

"In the market for a house and the adventure of a lifetime, Benjamin Mee decided to uproot his family and move them to an unlikely new home: a dilapidated zoo in the English countryside, complete with over 200 exotic animals. Mee, who specializes in animal behavior, had a dream to refurbish the zoo and run it as a family business. Naturally, friends and colleagues thought he was crazy.

"Mee's pipe dream became a reality in October 2006, when he and the rest of the Mee clan -- wife Katherine, son Milo (age six), daughter Ella (age four), brother Duncan, and Benjamin's seventy-six-year-old mother -- relocated to the Dartmoor Wildlife Park and met their new neighbors, including Solomon, an African lion and scourge of the local golf course; Zak, the elderly Alpha wolf, a benevolent dictator clinging to power; Ronnie, a Brazilian tapir, easily capable of killing a man but hopelessly wimpy; and Sovereign, a jaguar who had devised a long-term escape plan and implemented it.

"The grand reopening of the zoo was scheduled for spring, but there was 
much work to be done and none of it easy for these novice zookeepers. Tigers broke loose, money ran low, the staff grew skeptical, and family tensions reached a boiling point.

"Then tragedy struck, and the situation went from difficult to unimaginable. Katherine had a recurrence of a brain tumor, forcing Benjamin and his children to face the heartbreak of illness and the devastating loss of a wife and mother. But inspired by the memory of Katherine and the healing power of the incredible family of animals they had grown to love, Benjamin and his kids resolved to move forward. The Mee family opened the gates of the revitalized zoo in July 2007 to great success.

Brimming with energy and insight, We Bought a Zoo is a profoundly moving portrait of an ordinary family living in the most extraordinary circumstances."

Opening Line:
"Mum and I arrived as the new owners of Dartmoor Wildlife Park in Devon for the first time at around six o'clock on the evening of 20 October 2006, and stepped out of the car to the sound of wolves howling in the misty darkness."

My Take:
Do not confuse this book with the Matt Damon movie it inspired, which received mostly lukewarm reviews. The book's a bit on the warm fuzzy side, sure, but does offer some interesting insights into running a zoo ... and some beautiful passages on love, illness, and death as well.

#40: Agent 6

Agent 6, by Tom Rob Smith (New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2012)

"Leo Demidov is no longer a member of Moscow's secret police. But when his wife, Raisa, and daughters Zoya and Elena are invited on a 'Peace Tour' to NewYork City, he is immediately suspicious. 

"Forbidden to travel with his family and trapped on the other side of the world, Leo watches helplessly as events in New York unfold and those closest to his heart are pulled into a web of political conspiracy and betrayal -- one that will end in tragedy.

"In the horrible aftermath, Leo demands only one thing: to investigate the killer who destroyed his family. His request is summarily denied. Crippled by grief and haunted by the need to find out exactly what happened on that night in New York, Leo takes matters into his own hands. It is a quest that will span decades, and take Leo around the world -- from Moscow, to the mountains of Soviet-controlled Afghanistan, to the backstreets of New York -- in pursuit of the one man who knows the truth: Agent 6."

Opening Line:
"The safest way to write a diary was to imagine Stalin reading every word."

My Take:
Not bad, but certainly the weakest in the trilogy that includes Child 44 and The Secret Speech. The first two books were solidly entertaining political thrillers; this one alternates between dragging a bit and jumping abruptly across way too much time and space for the reader to have a good grasp of what's going on. It's not clear if Smith's trying to write a thriller about the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan or a psychological novel about a secret policeman who starts having doubts about the rightness of all he's done, and it doesn't quite fit either niche correctly.