Jan and Antonina Zabinski were typical zookeepers throughout the 1930s; doting on their animals, continuing their education through conferences and re...moreJan and Antonina Zabinski were typical zookeepers throughout the 1930s; doting on their animals, continuing their education through conferences and relationships with other zookeepers throughout Europe, and maintaining the grounds and cages in order for their numerous charges to thrive.
During the dawn hours of September 1st, 1939, their lives were altered forever when the Nazis began their occupation of Warsaw, the capital of Poland, and the home to the Zabinski’s zoo. The zoo animals were among some of the first casualties of the attack as cages were destroyed and the animals were quickly shot by German forces who feared what dangerous animals left to their own devices might do.
Ackerman paints a vivid picture of Warsaw during the time of the occupation, interspersing scenes from the Ghetto (created by the Nazis for the Jews to live in) with life for Jan, Antonina and their young son at the zoo. Using the abandoned cages and hidden areas within the zoo’s villa, the Zabinskis began to take in Jews fleeing the Ghetto and all the atrocities committed there. Over 300 Jews and Christian Poles protesting the war were housed at the zoo during the course of the occupation.
Ackerman uses Antonina’s journals to piece together the story of the zoo and its inhabitants during the war. Although she frequently wrote of her fears of being discovered (in fact, both Antonina and her husband carried cyanide capsules at all times in order to commit suicide rather than be killed or captured), she also speaks of the happy times in the zoo during those years. The larger animals were all killed or taken to German zoos but smaller animals were left behind, and others were gathered or found throughout the occupation. The humorous anecdotes about their “pets,” such as rabbits, muskrats, rabbits, and a badger bring levity to an otherwise weighty book.(less)
I really enjoy listening to audio books while I’m driving but have never listened to any non-fiction, so I decided to give it a try. I prefer non-fict...moreI really enjoy listening to audio books while I’m driving but have never listened to any non-fiction, so I decided to give it a try. I prefer non-fiction books that read in a more story-like format, and had heard that that was the case with Dave Cullen’s most recent book, Columbine. The book was even a finalist for the 2009 Edgar Awards, which are presented by the Mystery Writers of America group to honor the best mystery books of the year.
Dave Cullen was one of the original journalists who reported on the tragic events of April 20th, 1999, when two high school students turned on their peers and teachers for one of the largest school shootings that America has ever faced. Columbine is a combination of personal recollections, police documents and records, and information from Cullen’s own reporting of the event and its aftermath.
Cullen begins with the crime itself and then works his way backwards to detail the years leading up to the attack and the psyches of the killers, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. Although at times very difficult to listen to, the story is an important one, and Cullen brings both the victims and the killers to life with his vivid imagery and detailed time line.
Narrator Don Leslie does an excellent job in his delivery, with an appropriate level of emotion in his voice throughout the story. Leslie brings the culture and people of Columbine, Colorado to life for the listener. I cried through a lot of this book (I don’t recommend listening while driving) but it’s a worthwhile one to pick up, as either a book or on audio.(less)
I love cooking, eating, and nearly everything to do with food. I even kind of like washing dishes. Seriously. Last winter I decided to cook my way thr...moreI love cooking, eating, and nearly everything to do with food. I even kind of like washing dishes. Seriously. Last winter I decided to cook my way through a cookbook (yes, very Julie and Julia, I know, and no, my blog will not be made into a book or a movie) and have, at the time of this writing, completed 203 of the 264 recipes in the book. So I think it’s safe to say I enjoy food-related things.
Food writer Nigel Slater is somewhat unknown in the United States — he doesn’t have a television show that has hit the American markets and mostly writes for magazines and newspapers. His writing is beautiful, though — part memoir and part food talk, Toast is the story of Slater’s childhood in England. Many of the brand name food and sweets are over the heads of American readers (Walnut Whips? Refreshers? Cadbury’s Flake? — I want all of them but have no clue what they are) but they add to the charm and quirkiness of the book.
And if you like this one, there’s a whole genre of food memoirs (foodoirs?) out there with your name all over it. Try Tender at the Bone by Ruth Reichl, Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain, and My Life in France by Julia Child to get yourself started.(less)
I’m a total survival story junky. True survival stories only, please, and ones that involve the great outdoors. Favorites of mine over the past few ye...moreI’m a total survival story junky. True survival stories only, please, and ones that involve the great outdoors. Favorites of mine over the past few years have included Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors by Piers Paul Reed, Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing, and The Survivor’s Club: The Secrets and Science that Could Save Your Life by Ben Sherwood. The Survivor’s Club is great – it gives you tricks to stay alive in this crazy world (and also makes you extremely paranoid about all the ways you could die.) If you’re ever in an emergency situation, stick with me; chances are I’ve pre-mapped my way to the closest exit in a plane or hotel, have a flashlight tucked in my purse, or potentially even have a smoke hood to don (a gift from my father during high school.) Anyway, suffice to say, I love a survivor.
And Jon Krakauer is just that. Krakauer, a journalist and mountaineer, was a part of the ill-fated 1996 Everest climb about which at least ten different books have been written. He was working on an article about the commercialization of ascents to the mountain — for $65,00 you could basically buy yourself a summit attempt — a story that would have only required him to hike no further than base camp. His lifetime love of mountaineering made him change his plans, though, and instead of writing the original article he took a year to train to join an expedition attempting to reach the summit in May of 1996. Krakauer made it to the summit and safely down again, but eight other climbers died that day in the treacherous storm that blew in as the climbers approached the peak.
This is a wonderfully written book, and one that makes you feel like you have experienced Everest yourself. Definitely check this out, and while you’re at it, try some of Krakauer’s other non-fiction titles, like Under the Banner of Heaven: a Story of Violent Faith and Into the Wild.(less)