Timothy; or, Notes of an Abject Reptile (Hardcover)

By Verlyn Klinkenborg

Knopf, 9780679407287, 192pp.

Publication Date: February 7, 2006



Few writers have attempted to explore the natural history of a particular animal by adopting the animal’s own sensibility. But Verlyn Klinkenborg—with his deeply empathetic relation to the world around him—has done just that, and done it brilliantly, in Timothy.

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. For thirteen years, Timothy lived in White’s garden—making an occasional appearance in his journals. Now Klinkenborg gives the tortoise an unforgettable voice and powers of observation as keen as those of any bipedal naturalist. The happy result: Timothy regales us with an account of a gracefully paced (no unseemly hurry!) eight-day adventure outside the gate (“How do I escape from that nimble-tongued, fleet-footed race? . . . Walk through the holes in their attention”) and entertains us with shrewd observations about the curious habits and habitations of humanity. “To humans,” Timothy says with doleful understanding, “in and out are matters of life and death. Not to me. Warm earth waits just beneath me. . . . The humans’ own heat keeps them from sensing it.”

Wry and wise, unexpectedly moving, and enchanting at every—careful—turn, Timothy will surprise and delight readers of all ages.

Praise For Timothy; or, Notes of an Abject Reptile

“Told in terse sentences that can read like stanzas of poetry. . .this brief but powerful book is unforgettable.”
–Stephen J. Lyons, Chicago Sun-Times

“Verlyn Klinkenborg is neither naturalist nor nature poet, but he writes about nature with the science of the former and the soul of the latter. . .To read him is to wonder: How does he notice all those little things? And how does he make all those little things, seemingly meaningless and mundane, add up to such big ideas about beauty, grace, and the mysteries of natural life?”
–Josh Kun, Los Angeles Times

“Charming and most enjoyable. . .Klinkenborg’s prose is a pleasure to read.”
–Richard Adams, The New York Times

“…what [this] engaging reptile has to say will stay with readers long after they close the pages of this astonishing book…”
–Carol Herman, The Washington Times

“[A] masterfully imagined meditation on nature, biography, memory, legacy, faith and the cruelty of good intentions. . . [Timothy] is utterly spellbinding. . .”
Margaria Fichtner, The Miami Herald

“..something rather magical occurs in these pages early on. Our human blindfolds fall away. Timothy comes down off the shelf of the Natural History Museum and comes alive, delivering what to me is the most satisfying meditation on life and the natural world since Marilynne Robinson's Gilead.”
–Alan Cheuse, Chicago Tribune

“[A] delightful example of natural history with the tables turned. . .”
–Stuart Ferguson, The Wall Street Journal

“‘Timothy’ is a triumph of imagination and execution.”
–Daniel Dyer, Plain Dealer

“Fleshe[d] out with an imaginative empathy that surpasses any mere antiquarian fancy and suggests that White's stout faith in creaturely intelligence is still in good hands…Klinkenborg's book is a small gem.”
–David Barber, The Boston Globe

“A dazzling riff on human beings and their weird ways ‘written’ by an 18th-century tortoise…On virtually every page is a phrase or sentence that entertains or amuses or informs.”

“Hilarious and revealing…Verlyn Klinkenborg’s perception of the interconnectedness of life is sublime.”
–Donna Seaman, Booklist

Lyrical phrases flow like poetry…a delightful little book.”
–Maureen J. Delaney-Lehman, Library Journal

“[A] gorgeous hybrid of naturalist observation, novelistic invention and philosophical meditation…studied, beautiful reflections on the present and memory, earth and weather, love and utility, human and beast. This is a wholly unexpected and astonishing book.”
Publishers Weekly