Posted by: patriciamar | March 7, 2016

The Life of Pi

I just love sloths. If you’ve read “The Life of Pi,” you might not remember anything about sloths. Sloths, in fact, have virtually nothing to do with this book. However, I have a very fond memory of a paragraph in this book about sloths that is forever etched into my smile. I often read it outloud to my husband and laugh. We both read the book for the first time in Guadalajara, Mexico, at a point when we read kind of a lot, due to the lack of internet access at the time. It was a nice period actually.

Well, I might as well insert it here. A little bit of info on sloths.

Ha! So slow, they are!  The best time to read it is when you are overly tired and in the mood for something ridiculous.  Keep in mind that the boy in the book studies religion and zoology.  His final project was on the sloth.

 “My zoology thesis was a functional analysis of the thyroid gland of the three-toed sloth.  I chose the sloth because its demeanour- calm, quiet, and introspective- did something to soothe my shattered self.  It is a highly intriguing creature.  Its only real habit is indolence.  It sleeps or rests on average twenty hours a day.  Our team tested the sleep habits of five wild three-toed sloths by placing on their heads, in the early evening after they had fallen asleep, bright red plastic dishes filled with water.  We found them still in place late the next morning, the water of the dishes swarming with insects.  The sloth is at its busiest at sunset, using the word busy here in the most relaxed sense.  It moves along the bough of a tress in its characteristic upside-down position at the speed of roughly 400 metres an hour.  On the ground, it crawls to its next tree at the rate of 250 metres an hour, when motivated, which is 440 times slower than a motivated cheetah.  Unmotivated, it covers four to five meters in an hour.
The three-toed sloth is not well informed about the outside world.  On a scale of 2 to 10, where 2 represents unusual dullness and 10 extreme acuity, Beebe (1926) gave the sloth´s senses of taste, touch, sight and hearing a rate of 2, and its sense of smell a rating of 3.  If you come upon a sleeping sloth in the wild, two or three nudges should suffice to awaken it. It will then look sleepily in every direction but yours.  Why it should look about is uncertain since the sloth sees everything in a magoo-like blur.  As for hearing, the sloth is not so much deaf as uninterested in sound.  Beebe reported that firing guns next to sleeping or feeding sloths elicited little reaction.  And the sloth´s slightly better sense of smell should not be overestimated.  They are said to be able to sniff and avoid decayed branches, but Bullock (1968) reported that sloths fall to the ground clinging to decayed branches ‘often.'”
Maybe you won’t quite appreciate that right away – but let me tell you – after 3 or four times of reading it and realizing how ridiculously slow this animal moves, you will soon understand how it can put the joy back into life on a bad day.
Another reason that I liked “The Life of Pi” is the strange line it draws between reality, or the possibility of reality, and a nice tall tale. I enjoy reading books that make me question their origin.

Did Yann Martel spend a portion of his life on a dinghy? Did he ever train a tiger? Did he adopt sloths in his spare time?


A boy on a boat? Seems plausible enough for me. But the rest? I love it. makes me want to read Pecos Bill.

There’s also poop in a cup.

…Yeah, weird, I know.

I haven’t had a chance to read The High Mountains of Portugal. Have you? And if you have, thoughts?


  1. […] Books.  The lovable, “Pecos Bill,” by  Steven Kellogg was brought up in my post on The Life of Pi, I love the way Kellogg recreates tall tales, and the following are a few more of my […]


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