I was brought up as an only child in a large household of adult women—my mother, grandmother and my four aunts. As the resident male, my grandfather found pursuits to occupy him in ways that liberated him from the often contentious house….mostly hanging out at our “local” and playing the horses. He was so devoted to the races that he eventually acquired his own racehorse, but that is another story for another time. My point is, I learned to read at an early age and was encouraged to read from my grandfather’s extensive library--works that were far above my head. Eventually I gathered a library of my own and was given gifts of books on a regular basis. I knew, of course, that my mother and her sisters encouraged me because reading was a solitary and silent pursuit—and silence, in that very “Victorian” house, was golden. The skills I learned have served me well throughout my life: provided me with a world at my fingertips; given me insights far beyond my resources; entertained me endlessly, and comforted me in some very dark times. My mid-life crisis profession of teaching English was fueled mainly by my knowledge of and love for books. That love was my most prized gift—one that I hoped to pass on to my students.
So…here, loosely organized and in no particular order, is a list of some of my favorite books on the general topic of animals. Primarily fiction, they cover a range of genres and styles and were chosen simply because they appeal to me. Some of the following are charming and illuminating (The James Herriot books), some alarming (Life of Pi), others are informational, but all share the indispensable virtue of being good stories, well told. As George Gershwin said, “who could ask for anything more”? Be warned, however, some “end badly”. But you probably already know that since we have all read Charlotte’s Web, The Red Pony, and (most horrifying to me) Where the Red Fern Grows. If you get the sense that the story is taking you to places you would not care to go—do as I always suggested to my students: stop reading and find another book that better suits your tastes! Always, have fun losing yourself in the magic of some very fine writers.
Title, Author, Some Semi-Illuminating Commentary…
--The Art of Racing in the Rain. Garth Stein. Told from the P.O.V. and in the voice of the dog who is the main character. Quite wonderful.
--Marley and Me: Life and Love with the World’s Worst Dog. John Grogan. Just what it sounds like! Details some hilarious moments with golden retriever puppy. Loved the book but not the film.
--A Dog’s Purpose. W. Bruce Cameron. One dog’s search for his purpose in life. Told over several lifetimes, the book addresses the question: Why are we here? Has a sequel that I have not read: A Dog’s Journey.
--Water for Elephants. Sara Gruen. A graphic but very engaging story of the circus and its denizens, told by a former roustabout. Again, loved the book, not the film.
--Black Beauty. Anna Sewell. The endearing children’s classic horse story. Good to re-read as an adult (as is Charlotte’s Web)
--Notes From a Dog Rescue in Progress. Brian Becker. The very powerful story of an 11th hour dog rescue in a Los Angeles public animal shelter. Heart-wrenching and sometimes disturbing, it is, nonetheless, a wonderful insight into the world of animal rescue and its rewards. A story of love and second chances.
--Any and all of the James Herriot books beginning with All Creatures Great and Small. A newly graduated Scottish veterinarian begins to practice in a small farming community
in Yorkshire, England. Set between WWI and WWII.
--Wesley: The Story of an Owl and His Girl. Non-Fiction. Number one in my all-time top ten favorite animal books! The “Girl” is given a baby barn owl (Wesley) by a group of animal behavior researchers with whom she works. Intending only to foster the owlet until it is more fully mature, what follows is a life long inter-species love story of sacrifice and redemption. Unforgettable.
--Seabiscuit: An American Legend. Laura Hillenbrand. Great non-fiction book about the world of horse racing and a fine film.
--The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. David Wroblewski. Wow! I loved reading this! Fiction that often reads like fact. Follows the story of an interesting (fictional) breed of dog and the people who raise and care for them. Excellent on all levels. Has parallels to Shakespeare’s Hamlet (without the iambic pentameter and Elizabethan language!).
--Humphrey the Lost Whale. Wendy Tokuda. A children’s book that follows the story of Humphrey, a whale who got lost in the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento Delta. Since I lived on that bay at the time, this story has personal resonance, but it holds up for both children and adults. Short and beautifully illustrated.
--All of the kooky, funny, sweet and gentle Lillian Jackson Braun The Cat Who… books. I got hooked on these one summer when my 10-year-old son gave me one for my birthday and read the whole lot almost as a piece. Concerns a rather eccentric millionaire and the crime solving abilities of his Siamese cat, Koko and sidekick cat, Yum Yum.
On Lily Pond: Four Years With a Family of Beavers. Hope Ryden.Non-Fiction. Out of print, but copies surface in libraries and used book-stores. An account of the ways of beavers by noted naturalist Hope Ryden who spent years in all seasons observing a pair of beavers, Lily and Inspector General, and the series of kits they reared. Her patient observation paid off: she was eventually accepted by the beaver tribe and was able to move among the animals that she lovingly describes as “gnomes who work magic and transform their surroundings during the dark of night.” Fascinating and informational. A really unusual first person account.
There are so many more on my list, but this is already too long. Most of these titles are in the library. Amazon, Kindle (and its ilk), and most independent booksellers will be happy to sell you copies. Try our local Blu-Owl Books, for one. I hope one or more of these books appeal. Happy Summer to all of us creatures, great and small! -CC
Ps. All these darling pitures are of the Centers' newest fairy garden, as you can see the cats keep a close eye out for visitors!