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Timothy, or Notes of an Abject Reptile

3.64  ·  Rating details ·  363 ratings  ·  75 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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3.64  · 
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 ·  363 ratings  ·  75 reviews

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Feb 10, 2013 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
Marcus Hobson
Mar 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
Sometimes the things that draw me to love a book are outside the book itself and relate to events in my own life. That is the case with this little book. It is all about Timothy, a tortoise who belonged to Gilbert White, a country parson who lived in the parish of Selborne in southern England and wrote his famous Natural History of Selborne in 1789.

I had an old copy of Gilbert White’s book when I was a teenager. It was full of beautiful pen and ink drawings of the village, probably dating from t
Jan 03, 2008 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.
Sep 06, 2007 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
Mar 31, 2009 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
Aug 01, 2007 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.
May 09, 2013 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
Apr 02, 2011 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
Nov 04, 2009 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 01, 2007 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 rated it really liked it
A tortoise-eye account of an 18th century English botanist and his obsessions. Surprising and quite brilliant
Lark Benobi
Reading this small pastoral book was something like sitting on a covered porch on a hot summer day, with lemonade. In a rocking chair. Nothing much happens. You're so happy anyway.
Jun 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: owned-books
I loved this lyrical book, written as the musings of Timothy, a tortoise relocated from the Mediterranean to England in the eighteenth century to live out his life in the garden of the naturalist Gilbert White. The author's observations on the human condition as seen through the eyes of a tortoise are perceptive and poignant. This is a lovely and somewhat sad little book.

Ratings (1 to 5)
Writing: 5
Plot: 4
Characters: 4
Emotional impact: 5
Overall rating: 4.5

Favorite quotes
"So it is with humans. Quic
Mar 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetic-prose
Refreshing new narrative voice and perspective!
Jun 20, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: _roman, dieren
De schildpad heeft zo zijn (haar) bedenkingen over de mens en over zijn (haar) bestaan in het dorp Selborne.
Prachtige observaties en beschrijvingen
Jul 31, 2011 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
Jul 26, 2007 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
Daniel Landsman
Dec 13, 2012 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
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
Apr 06, 2009 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
Jennifer Heise
Jun 17, 2014 rated it really liked it
What would it mean to be a subject of the relentless amateur naturalist craze of the early modern period? The author here imagines the perspective of tortoise Timothy, whose well-documented sojourn in the English countryside is part of the 18th century observations of Gilbert White's The Natural History of Selbourne. Timothy muses on the nature of English life, human life, and White's observations as well as expressing their desire to return to the place of their birth, adding a balancing perspe ...more
Jun 04, 2008 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
Judy Vasseur
Aug 20, 2011 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
Mar 02, 2011 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...
Mar 20, 2016 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.
Jul 04, 2007 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.
Brenda C Kayne
Dec 07, 2011 rated it really liked it
Fictionalized ruminations of a turtle creatively realized by the author who read the journals of an eighteenth century naturalist and clergyman, specifically during The Age of Reason. Pure poetry, great truths. This little animal explains us very well and our odd place and power in the natural world.
Aug 04, 2008 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.
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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.
“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.” 2 likes
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