We Bought a Zoo by Benjamin Mee

Thursday, May 30, 2013


We Bought a Zoo
You know, sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage. Just literally twenty seconds of just embarrassing bravery. And I promise you, something great will come of it.

Soon after finishing We Bought a Zoo, I began to fancy adopting some really crazy project. Like buying a zoo or a restaurant. Or a big farm. Or living 100% on homemade food. Of course, I wouldn't do any of those. At least not in the forseeable future. But reading this book did get me thinking about how wonderful it would be to take on such a huge project and watch it arrive at fruition.

I first heard about this book after the movie based on it and of the same title was released. There are typically two simultaneous reactions I have to books like these:
1. What? They bought a zoo? They are absolutely nuts!
2. But, how wonderful it is - to buy something that's on the verge of extinction and to transform it into something beautiful? *go starry-eyed*

So, when I saw this audiobook in the library, I had to take a crack at it. The author, Benjamin Mee, and his wife, Katherine, saw the ad for a rundown zoo and applied for it. Their application was rejected and then they promptly forgot about it. Until they chanced upon another ad for the same zoo, a few weeks later, this time with the implication that the animals may be killed if the zoo gets no buyers. This time, their application was accepted and they became the new owners of the zoo.

A lot of the book focuses on the challenges the new owners face at the zoo. The workers at the zoo are not used to giving their opinions and Mee tries to change that. There is a lot of redesign work involved - enclosures that need to be moved, animals that are better off at other zoos, even rethinking which animals can be allowed to interact due to jealousy or compatibility issues. The zoo also brought with it a lot of baggage, thanks to issues under the previous owner and simply poor execution.

There's also the animal aspect of the book. Owning a zoo means coming in contact with a whole host of animals - from the timid to the murderous ones. It also means forming a bond with many of them, be it with a jaguar or a tiger. The author also points out the "special" animals - those that are endangered and need to be bred in captivity to continue their species. And then there are those that are released into the wild - after years of being within closed enclosures, this is not a natural concept for any of the animals.

The other focal point of the book was Katherine. She was diagnosed with a brain tumor shortly before the zoo was purchased. The tumor was successfully removed but there was an increased risk that it would come back. And kill her. It did come back more vehemently than before and the decline of Katherine was a pretty hard part to listen to. Mee talks about his emotions while grappling with the danger of losing Katherine without making it over-dramatic (although one can be excused for behaving any way when they are losing someone they love).

Much as I loved the story of this book, I wasn't a fan of the writing. I found it way too informal than I liked it to be and if I were reading this book (as opposed to listening to the audio), I would have put it down very early. We Bought a Zoo made for a wonderful book to listen to in the car - I found myself rooting for Mee when he was dealing with the challenges of the zoo and crying with him when he was battling his wife's cancer.


I borrowed this audiobook from the good old library.

6 comments:

Helen Murdoch said...

I haven't read the book, but did see the movie and I enjoyed it. I don't know if I even remember the brain tumor part! I loved that the story was true because it is such a crazy concept!

Ti Reed said...

In theory it sounds like an interesting read. What you say about the informal quality of the writing concerns me though. Maybe it would be better to just see the movie.

I used to want to grow a sustainable garden until my son planted wayyyyy too many tomato plants and I had tomatoes coming out of my ears, pests to contend with and a tremendous water bill during the hottest summer of the year. I guess I am not cut out for farming, huh?

Juju at Tales of Whimsy.com said...

You've convinced me to add the audio to my TBL.
I want to see the movie too.

Athira / Aths said...

Yay!

I hope to see the movie too, someday.

Athira / Aths said...

This is the first year we are doing any kind of gardening, so I'm sure we have gone overboard too. I'm curious to see what we'll get a surplus of.

Athira / Aths said...

Crazy is right! The author didn't even seem to have had any related experience and it was crazy but wonderful that he took up a zoo project.