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Timothy, or Notes of an Abject Reptile

3.59  ·  Rating Details  ·  291 Ratings  ·  64 Reviews
Few writers have attempted to explore the natural history of a particular animal by adopting the animal’s own sensibility. But Verlyn Klinkenborg has done just that in Timothy: an insightful and utterly engaging story of the world’s most famous tortoise, whose real life was observed by the eighteenth-century English curate and naturalist Gilbert White. For thirteen years, ...more
Paperback, 192 pages
Published January 9th 2007 by Vintage (first published February 7th 2006)
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The Reptile Room by Lemony SnicketHoles by Louis SacharThe Tortoise and the Hare by Janet StevensCrocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth PetersTurtle Wish by Murielle Cyr
Calling All Reptiles!
53rd out of 137 books — 42 voters
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Best Biology Writing
31st out of 31 books — 12 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 624)
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Nov 23, 2014 Petra rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Timothy is such a great character. I'm surprised at how fond I am of him and how much I wish his life could have been more natural, content and at home. His kidnapping and captivity, no matter how humane and gentle, were still an entrapment and narrowing of his life.
I loved Timothy's observations, his earthy outlooks on life, the world and it's inhabitants. In this book, it's the humans that come across as narrow, unseeing, clunky and out of place as they try to re-order Nature into what they f
Feb 11, 2008 Dan rated it did not like it
Ugh, awful book. Christmas gift from Mom. Usually recommends awesome books. Moves at a snail's pace. Or a tortoise's. Guess that's the point. Narrated by snobby, snotty, snooty reptile. Better than humans. Humans use complete sentences. Tortoise too cool for that. Speaks in fragments.

Really. Here's a paragraph from the first page:

"Through the meadow. Past the alcove and down the brick-walk. Wicket-gate clicks shut behind us. Thomas sets me down beside the asparagus. Edge of my umbrageous forest.
Oct 24, 2015 Sundry rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A wonderful book for reading in the back yard, or outdoors anywhere. Not a lot of plot, not a lot of conflict. Exactly the kind of book they warn you not to write.

I liked it for its observations of humans and nature. And I got choked up at the end.

“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.” (from the Random House blurb)

I also liked Klinkenborg’s Making Hay, which I read many year
Aug 01, 2007 Adrian rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: animal lovers / poetry appreciators

i wish i could give this book 1 million stars.
it is SOOOOOOOO beautifull written. i dont know
if i've read a book that has ever taken my breathe
away just by the powerfully poetic mastery.

it's told from the perspective of an old tortoise
who is actually a girl but has been named Timothy.
Timothy's observations of humans is so accurate &
will make u sad but is so beautiful it will lift
your heart.

if only there were more books like this. this is
one to read and re-read and read again.
Mar 31, 2009 Melanie rated it it was amazing
Timothy, or, Notes of an Abject Reptile - Verlyn Klinkenborg

What can I say about a tortoise whose vocabulary is wider than mine? Within the first 20 pages, I had to look up umbrageous, tegument, venerey, borecole, hirundines, and sainfroin. (Thank heavens, Timothy provided a glossary.) Timothy, the eponymous abject reptile, was not showing off. He simply was using the best, most precise words he needed for his observations - the same vocabulary that Gilbert White, a 18th-century naturalist, used
Nov 04, 2009 Sandra rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Not a fast read, but it is from a turtle's perspective, so what to expect. To be honest I skimmed the turtle's description of the birds and other nature. The vocabulary was quite intense. I didn't realize that there was a glossary until I finished the book (darn, that would have helped).

"Timothy's" observations about humans are very touching. For example, Timothy pities us because we have to wear clothes and can't be in touch with nature. I enjoyed the description of "timothy's" weigh-in. Very s
Oct 10, 2007 Beatty rated it it was amazing
Timothy the tortoise riffs on nature, humans, human nature, reason, instinct, religion, and the English countryside.

Beautifully written. This book did induce more than a few pleasant naps -- but Timothy would find this perfectly appropriate.
Tom Lawson
Jan 04, 2008 Tom Lawson rated it really liked it
A tortoise-eye account of an 18th century English botanist and his obsessions. Surprising and quite brilliant
Jul 31, 2011 Shahirah rated it it was ok
18th century naturalist Gilbert White made numerous observations of the nature around him in the town of Selborne, England. Among the subjects of his interest was a displaced turtle named Timothy. Timothy was plucked from the ancient ruins and Mediterranean warmth of Cilicia and unceremoniously deposited into the garden of Mr Gilbert White, braving the harsh English weather and all manner of human interactions.

This book provides Timothy's perspective to life in Selborne, and a slightly contrast
Apr 17, 2010 Steve rated it it was amazing
Shelves: novels, nature
It took a while to settle into Timothy's chelonian voice, because my first thought was that a tortoise's narration should be slow and unwinding. But as Timothy's personality emerged, her direct, deliberate sentences and the way she take the world in one specific observation at a time made that voice perfect and inevitable. Klinkenborg takes the traditional naturalist's method of making order of the world through observation over time, looking for systems and secrets in all that occurs, and turns ...more
Mar 20, 2016 Elizabeth rated it liked it
This was a pretty amazing book, a novel based on the observations of Timothy, a real tortoise who lived in England in the 1780s. Timothy's shell is now on display in a British museum. I'm certain it's the first book I've read narrated by a turtle, and I was amazed by the author's scholarship about life of the times. He handily included a glossary of terms. The reading was somewhat slow but pretty interesting. I'm glad I live in the early 21st century.
Daniel Landsman
Dec 27, 2012 Daniel Landsman rated it did not like it
As a guy whose favorite animal is a turtle, I really wanted to like this book. Sadly, I did not. I admit to having been swayed a bit before starting by a few of the reviews I had read about it. Nevertheless I was determined to disagree.

It wasnt so much the weird style of writing, which I could totally get over. It was the content. Timothy lives in 18th century England, and his references are to all of this nature around the English town, the townspeople, and just the way life went on in those d
Jun 04, 2009 Riah rated it liked it
Recommends it for: nature lovers, readers looking for quiet time
I will say that this book is stylistically genius, and plot-wise a huge risk. So I would give it 5-stars for style and narration, but only 2-stars for the story. Therefore, I've compromised with the 3-star rating above.

I give 5-stars for style because written in the perspective of a turtle, this book somehow (with very short sentences) sort of moves like one, which I think is very well done. The perspective both philosophically and physical descriptions put the reader immediately in the position
Bookmarks Magazine

Although Timothy technically lives on a shelf in London's Natural History Museum, in Klinkenborg's hands she's alive and kicking in White's garden. On the editorial board of the New York Times and author of "The Rural Life" column and three books, Klinkenborg (through Timothy's voice) turns small observations about nature into powerful ideas about beauty, nature, humanity, and our role in the natural world. In wise, opinionated, and truncated language, Timothy captures the vagaries and hypocrisi

Marjorie Hakala
I genuinely don't know how to rate this. I fell asleep over it more often than with any other book in my recent memory. On the other hand, it sent me into a place that was peaceful and green and comforting. Where nothing ever happened, ever. Sometimes things would turn out to have happened, but there was less forward motion than in any other novel (is this a novel?) I've ever read.

I think all of this would have been less of a problem if I'd sat down with the book over a cup of tea instead of rea
Jennifer Fredin
Oct 31, 2015 Jennifer Fredin rated it liked it
Very nice quiet, beautifully written story on a Tortoise transported from Turkey to England who lived out its life first in a stone courtyard for 20 years and the rest in the garden of an Anglican minister and naturalist in England in the 1700's. Nice, calm, thoughtful reading.
May 09, 2013 Alan rated it really liked it
This is an American, current companion volume to Gilbert White's Natural History of Selbourne, narrated by Pastor White's own tortoise Timothy. Many times Timothy cites what Mr White said as there is such "a propensity in mankind towards deceiving and being deceived...that one cannot safely relate any thing from common report, especially in print, without expressing some degree of doubt and suspicion" (85). Timothy soon adds, " Mr White's true music is the repeated, unresolved music of birdsong. ...more
Aug 05, 2008 Professor rated it liked it
Recommended to Professor by: BVH
Shelves: personal-library
An interesting book apparently based on an actual naturalist's works and the fact that he really did own a tortoise from the Mediterranean, named it Timothy when it was in fact a female. The book is from the tortoise's point of view, so it's kind of a natural history of tortoises along with a critique/observation of mankind. I thought that it was both good and bad that the author gave the book the sort of slow and methodical feel that you would expect a tortoise to have-good because it was appro ...more
Dec 29, 2015 Hannah rated it really liked it
A beautiful, patiently-paced book that brilliantly utilizes a unique perspective--see the world from a tortoise's point of view and marvel at humans' blundering, hubris, and occasional kindheartedness.
Judy Vasseur
Aug 21, 2011 Judy Vasseur rated it it was amazing
Found this book on a neighbor’s stoop.

Later that day I met a 17 year old Russian speaking parrot, all white with pale blue around his black eye. He was in a cage on the sidewalk outside a vacuum cleaner store. I then went into the fruit store next door. When I came out I looked back at him, he was watching me with his head tilted. My landlords have a 50 year old parrot held captive in the windowless basement, alone, in a padlocked cage. His name is Shakespeare. I often hear him screaming.

Well, t
Apr 06, 2014 Leisa rated it it was ok
At moments, the writing could be beautiful. However, most of the time, I found my self glossing over pages. There is basically no plot. Extremely boring. Not for me.
Apr 02, 2011 Mary rated it it was amazing
Exquisite little book by the guy who writes, at the bottom of the
NYTimes editorial page, that occasional casual little paragraph
about what's up with the animals and plants on his NY state farm.
This book recreates the plant, animal & human life of the English
village of Selborne as recorded in the late 1700's by naturalist
Gilbert White. All from the viewpoint of a tortoise (mis-)named
Timothy who has many perceptive observations about humans and their
vaunted advantages as vertical and sel
Feb 09, 2014 Debi rated it really liked it
Life from the perspective of a tortoise in the yard of an 18th century Englishman.
Jul 04, 2007 Alex rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone patient
Shelves: justread
To reviewers who say this book is beautiful but slow: of course it lingers and drags; Klinkenborg is writing from the perspective of an 18th century tortoise. I give him props for accomplishing such a feat with grace, intrigue, and a shit ton of research. This book is a refuge from the modern, the urban, the gray, a pleasant detour from current literary trends, such as the memoir (of geishas or otherwise).

Bottom line: I'd rather spend my time in a turtle's head than Eggers' any day.
Feb 29, 2012 Magila rated it did not like it
Shelves: quit, fiction
disclosure: i listened to the book. i got about a fifth of the way through. it's interesting, but i cannot get over the reader. a british angela lansbury reads it. timothy, the story of a tortoise dude, given voice by a snooty sounding lady. can't do it. imagine for a moment nemo, children's favorite clown fish, having the voice of dolly parton. it's distracting, and it makes me like the book less. it might deserve a 3 in reality, but for now it's getting put to the side with a 1...
Aug 11, 2008 Elvira rated it really liked it
pretty interesting - a little tough to get used to his style but I like it. There are some astute observations made in here about humans and our connections to the natural world. Since the book was based on the life of Gilbert White - there is some accuracy and you start to learn about Selborne ... Timothy wonders why a lot. Gilbert is a studious observer and cataloger of information.
Nov 22, 2014 Lex rated it did not like it
for a book about a tortoise, it was very disappointing.
Aug 21, 2008 kathryn rated it liked it
i like it..but in small doses. i just want to finish it now which is good when the book is rivetting but i want to finish it bc sadly i'm tired of it. this book is about a turtle for crying out loud. i do like the prose very much though so i should probably read something in between bits of it. maybe read it like a poetry collection before bed.
Karen Taylor
This book is a great one to take along when in a waiting room to pass the time. It is clever and entertaining but not edge of your seat can't put it down. The author is a member of the NYTimes editorial board and has the talent and ability through Timothy's eyes view we humans in comic and serious perspective which makes you smile.
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Verlyn Klinkenborg is a member of the editorial board of The New York Times. His previous books include Making Hay, The Last Fine Time, and The Rural Life. He lives in upstate New York.
More about Verlyn Klinkenborg...

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“How these humans dispose themselves! Unlike anything else in creation. Or rather like everything else in creation all at once. Legs of one beast. Arms of another. Proportions all awry to a tortoise's eye. Torso too squat. Too little neck. Vastly too much leg. Hands like creatures unto themselves. Senses delicately balanced. And yet each sense dulled by mental acuity. Reason in place of a good nose. Logic instead of a tail. Faith instead of the certain knowledge of instinct. Superstition instead of a shell.” 1 likes
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