How Books Led a Young Jane Goodall to Live Among the Chimps
“There was no TV when I was a child,” says the primatologist Jane Goodall, author (most recently) of “The Book of Hope.” “I learned from books — and nature. I read every book about animals I could find. Doctor Dolittle and Tarzan led me to dream about living with animals in Africa.”
What books are on your night stand?
“The Perfect Gentleman: A Muslim Boy Meets the West,” to remind me to reread. It is brilliant and I know the author, Imran Ahmad. And “Cult: Following My Escape and Return to the Children of God,” by Bexy Cameron. I skimmed it and it is an extraordinary and chillingly true autobiography. Don’t know how long they’ll sit there, though — no time to read them.
By the end of a day of Zooms and Skypes and emails my eyes are too tired to read, so I turn to audiobooks. I need something soothing to stop the racing thoughts about all I haven’t managed to accomplish that day and all I have to do the next. Like an Agatha Christie. The reader matters — I love Hugh Fraser’s voice. Another audiobook: “Beautiful Ruins,” by Jess Walter. His mastery of the different voices of his characters is quite extraordinary.
What’s the last great book you read?
Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” — the author has created another world that becomes totally real even as the story grips you. Moreover, the book is like an allegory of the challenges we face in today’s dark times. We need to grow the Fellowship of the Ring to fight the evil forces of autocratic regimes, the swing to the far right, the disrespect of nature that has led to climate change, extinction of species and the pandemic; industrial agriculture including the horrendous factory farms — the list is endless.
And the book gives hope: Two little hobbits, Frodo and the faithful Sam, faced the might of Mordor and the Dark Lord alone — and won! And then how the gift from Galadriel to Sam enabled him to restore the degraded land.
Describe your ideal reading experience (when, where, what, how).
When: When I do not have a pressing list of Zoom meetings and lectures, motivational videos to write and record, and no fewer than 500 urgent emails to answer. In other words, not in the immediate future Where: On a plane. What: Reread “Lord of the Rings” and “Other Men’s Flowers,” an anthology of poems by Lord Wavell which includes almost all of my favorites. How: As my eyes are so tired at the end of the day from sitting in front of a screen, audiobooks.
What’s your favorite book no one else has heard of?
The only book I know no one has heard of is “Jane — By Her Mother,” because it was never published!
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