Saturday, January 14, 2012

Non-Fiction Reviews: Louisa May Alcott & We Bought A Zoo

Posted by Simcha 5:01 PM, under | 5 comments

Louisa May Alcott
by Susan Cheever 
read by Tavia Gilbert

When I was a kid my mother took me to visit the Alcott home in Concord, Massachusetts, and I still remember the thrill of being in the very same house that Louis May Alcott lived and wrote in. So it was a bit disappointing to discover, in the course of listening to this biography, that the house I had visited was not really Alcott's childhood home, or that the warm, close-knit family that I had imagine living there didn't really exist. But really, that was the only disappointment I experienced while listening to this fascinating biography of Louis May Alcott, in which I learned so much about the life of this well-loved author. For example, I never knew that Alcott was actually very resistant to the idea of writing Little Women, the book that made her famous. She had absolutely no interest in writing “ a book for girls” but after being pressured to do so by her father, who was promised his own book deal if his daughter provided the desired story, Louisa Capitulated. But Cheever suggests that Louisa got her revenge by leaving her father out of the book that raised her to stardom.

There are many other interesting tidbits in this book which are relayed in a way that left me feeling as if the author was a personal friend of Louisa's, and that I now knew her almost as well. I loved the insights in to her personality and the glimpses into her relationships with some of the other famous writers of the time, such as Nathaniel Hawthorne and Ralph Waldo Emerson.

I admit that this is the only biography of Alcott that I have ever “read” so I don't know how much of the information in it is common knowledge, but most of it was new to me, and given over in a fresh and compelling manner that had me listening to it whenever I had the chance.

Tavia Gilbert also does a wonderful job reading the audio version of this book and I intend to seek out more books narrated by her.


We Bought a Zoo
by Benjamin Mee
read by Gildart Jackson

I've always thought it would be a lot of fun to work at a zoo, feeding the tigers and elephants and playing with the meerkats. So when I saw this book, about a family in England that buys a zoo, I couldn't wait to read about all the adventures I imagined they must have had. I mean, what could be more exciting than owning your own zoo?

Unfortunately this book was far from exciting, with a lot of dry facts about the expenses and logistics involved in acquiring the zoo, much of which I had no interest in reading about. There were very few interesting anecdotes about the animals and pretty much no stories about the family's interactions with them. I thought it was particularly strange that Mee's kids are rarely mentioned and we only hear about his wife when she gets cancer. Mee's account of his wife's battle with cancer is the only time in the story where he shows any real emotion, though he doesn't talk at all about the affect on his young kids (who, again,we hear very little about). For the most part Mee remains distant and factual, making his story a hard one for me to get interested in.

I also had some trouble with narrator of the audio book whose reading felt a bit off to me. He often seemed to emphasis the wrong parts of a word or sentence and after a while his voice began to grate on me. I might assume it was just his British accent, which I'm unused to, but I've listened to other British narrators before, without any trouble. But while I wasn't particularly happy with this book's narrator I doubt the story would have been much improved if read by someone else, or in book form. Though if his kids ever decide to write about their experience living in a zoo, I would certainly be interested in reading that book.


Well, if the zoo stories were more about the dry facts of taking care of animals, I would like that. :) however, the expenses, not so much. As far as the Alcott book, I think that one sounds interesting!

Delighted that you enjoyed the book. Thanks for the kind words! - Tavia Gilbert

One of the few tidbits I know about Alcott is that she wrote a lot of cheap "thrillers" - personally, I enjoy them more than reading her novels similar to Little Women!

Yay non'fic reviews :) I am glad you posted them here cos I do like all sorts of books, but sadly I do not read a lot of non'fic

Melissa: If you enjoy biographies, or are a Alcott fan, I would highly recommend this book. The zoo one was disappointing though.

Tavia: Thank you for a wonderful book reading. A good narrator makes all the difference.

SusieBookworm: I had read one of Alcott's other books, her very first one actually, and it was a bit ridiculous, but perhaps they got better over time. They were apparently pretty popular, though not as much as her Little Women series.

Blodeuedd: Well perhaps I can help turn you into a non-fiction reader because I loved non-fic. there are some really great ones out there.

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