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Saturday, July 18, 2009

Animals, Animals, Animals

In a recent conversation, the topic of "animal books" came up. So many of us love a good story about a beloved animal even if, given the shorter life span of pets, there is also an element of sadness.

I'm reading The Art of Racing in the Rain, which is beautifully written and so moving, but I can read only a little at a time because so many emotions keep arising.

Enzo is a dog who feels he should be a man and fully expects another lifetime as a man with the gift of a manageable tongue for speech and opposable thumbs. He sees himself as training for his reincarnation, but truthfully, he is already far more human than most people. I could wish that Stein had included fewer elements of sadness and more of the joy, but there is so much to think about in this novel that although I resent having to put it aside frequently because of being so emotional, I simply must have more Enzo philosophy, more Enzo world vision, more Enzo. Remember Old Yeller, another wonderful, loving, and devoted dog? Just imagine the story told from Old Yeller's perspective. (Kailana mentioned in a previous comment that she liked this one, too.) I don't have much time for reading right now and can't read it for very long at a time, but I hope to finish it soon.

Of course, if you enjoy stories about animals in general, nothing beats James Herriot's books! All Creatures Great and Small, All Things Bright and Beautiful, and All Things Wise and Wonderful are my all-time favorites in animal stories. A veterinarian in Yorkshire, Herriot's many books about his experiences are hilarious and moving. These remain some of my most beloved comfort reads; just thinking about some of his experiences, some of the animals and their owners, some of the events with Siegfried and Tristan make me smile.

I loved the three memoirs of Peter Gethers (televison and film script writer, editor, founder of Villard Books, editor-at-large for Random House, etc.) about his life with Norton, the Perfect Cat. The first one is The Cat Who Went to Paris, and all three of them are wonderful! Gethers' was a cat-hater until his life tangled up with Norton.

I still have Dewey, the Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World on my TBR list and there is another version specifically for children.

Somewhere I read about Gobbolino, the Witch's Cat by Ursula Moray Williams, first published in the 1940's and still a children's classic. Gobbolino, born into a witchy family, wants to be a hearth cat, a kitchen cat. Unfortunately, his reputation as a witch's cat follows him.... The book has been on my TBR list for a while; maybe I'll begin a Reading Trail on either animal books or children's books.

Diane Ackerman's The Moon by Whale Light is a delightful adventure. Ackerman's essays are a wonderfully poetic scientific look at penguins, bats, whales, and alligators and the importance of these creatures in nature. Great scientific story-telling and encouragement for conservation.

Robin, at A Fondness for Reading, has also contributed to my TBR list with her post about Irene Pepperberg's book Alex & Me: How a Scientist and a Parrot Uncovered a Hidden World of Animal Intelligence--and Formed a Deep Bond in the Process.

Ooops, out of time for this post and so many good books about animals unmentioned!

What are some of your favorite animal books --for children or adults, fiction or nonfiction?


  1. I will note down the animal books you suggest that I haven't read yet.
    The Norton in Paris books are fine and funny, and Marley & Me is sweet.
    I had to say hi when I saw how your blog name is sympatico with my blog's name
    We both love gardens and books, and the book I co-wrote has its own blog
    Happy to meet you.

  2. Terra - Happy to meet you, too! I love the Norton books, but for some reason, I didn't like Marley & Me as much as most people. However, I read it at a time when my dog was having serious problems and maybe it was just too close for comfort.

    Thanks for visiting, Terra!

  3. Since I love your blog post topic, I must return to suggest "Horse Heaven" by Jane Smiley. She almost miraculously perceives and writes about how several horses think, and what goes on inside their heads. Plus the novel is powerful, about the world of horse racing and horses are the stars.
    A fun fiction is "Wild Road" by Gabriel King, about a house kitten Tag who becomes a traveller and a warrior on the side of good.
    I understand how if your own dog was having difficult health problems "Marley and Me" might be hard to read.

  4. I read All Creatures Great and Small when I was in junior high or high school and I LOVED it. The book was an old copy of my mother's, and she gave it to me to read when I sick. I remember thinking I wouldn't like it and being pleasantly surprised!

  5. Terra - Thanks for the recommendations! I'm adding them to my list. At some point in the future, I will be taking a reading journey featuring books on animals that will include both fact and fiction and versions for both children and adults.

    Lexi - All Creatures Great and Small is wonderful, isn't it? Anyone who loves animals will love the book, and even people who aren't animal lovers will get a kick out of all the characters and situations.

  6. The Art of Racing in the Rain and Alex and Me are favorites of mine. (I had the audios). ENZO and ALEX will stay with me forever :)

  7. Diane - I'm still having trouble with The Art and sadness, but Enzo is worth it. I'm looking forward to Alex & Me. Good to know that it continues to draw fans.

  8. I just love James Herriot. When I wake up in the middle of the night with nightmares, and I really can't fall back to sleep, I always read James Herriot. He always cheers me up and makes me smile.

  9. I was reading through your post, thinking about how much I like animal books, when I realized that I can't think of any true animal books that I've read in the past few years! I think the last one was TIME CAT by Lloyd Alexander, a children's fantasy novel about a young boy whose cat takes him through time on a series of magical adventures.

    Mostly, I just like it when animals show up in books of other sorts. I'm a big dog person, and I almost always find that I enjoy books just a little bit more if there's a dog.

  10. Jenny - I can read it over and over, and it cheers me up, too! What a great cure for nightmares!

    Memory - I love books where an animal becomes a character, even if the book is not about the animal. Most animal books are for children or YA, I guess, but so many of them have become classics.

    Oh, I just thought of another good one, The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents by Terry Pratchett (for children, YA, adults). Witty and very funny, but with some serious elements about human nature. Loved it!

  11. Couple of those books I have never heard of before. I will have to check them out! Great idea for a post. :)

  12. I haven't read any of James Herriot's books, but I absolutely adore the British television series of All Creatures Great and Small. I cannot begin to count how many times I've watched that first season. Every so often, either through the library or now through Netflix, I grab the discs and just bask in the comforting nostalgia of it. Such a great show, so lovingly done.

  13. Kailana - :) I particularly like the ones that are funny, but I also love the illustrations in children's books!

    Carl - I read the books before seeing the series, but last year I ordered them through Netflix so I could watch them again. They did a marvelous job, and you are right, it was so lovingly done!

  14. Uh-oh, you're going to get me into some trouble!!!

    I've read a bunch of James Herriot -- love him, love him. Loved The Cat Who Went to Paris, too, but I kind of hated Dewey. Too much of the book was about the author and her cancer. I did love the cat bits, though.

  15. bookfool - I'm having some trouble with The Art of Racing in the Rain because too much is about sad stuff in the human lives, so maybe I'll give Dewey a pass.

    But James Herriot rules!

  16. I discovered the Herriot books when I was sick in bed and having trouble reading anything because of my aching head and nasty cough. They soothed me and entertained me and perhaps made me better. I've been a fan ever since.

  17. I read Dewey awhile back and loved it. Can't wait to see the movie, too (Meryl Streep has been tapped to play Vicki). I just finished reading The Art of Racing in the Rain for my library book club and absolutely loved it. Heartbreaking yet uplifting at the same time. I hope you're able to return to it.

  18. Bybee - Yes! The perfect books when you are sick. Herriot is so funny and comforting that you can't help but feel better! If you haven't watched the BBC series, you should try that, too!

    Lesley - I love Meryl Streep--sounds like a great choice.

    I'm back to The Art of Racing in the Rain. Should finish soon!