The barking best books with animals

The Books I Picked & Why

H Is for Hawk

By Helen MacDonald

H Is for Hawk

Why this book?

I read this book before I lost my own father in January 2021, which makes it even more powerful for me now. I completely understand how the author, Helen MacDonald, became completely lost when her own father died. Like Helen, my father was a larger-than-life character and instead of throwing myself into training a falcon, I’ve thrown myself into working with the dog in my profile pic. What’s fantastic about this book is learning about the world of falconry, which is unlike anything I’ve ever read. Ms. MacDonald is a wonderful writer with a keen sense of place and time. You can smell the wet earth, see the low cloudy sky, and feel elation the first time her hawk successfully returns. This is a beauty of a book by a skilled writer. 


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All Creatures Great and Small: The Warm and Joyful Memoirs of the World's Most Beloved Animal Doctor

By James Herriot

All Creatures Great and Small: The Warm and Joyful Memoirs of the World's Most Beloved Animal Doctor

Why this book?

Doing my research for The Gable House, I re-read this entire series. This one in particular, as James Herriot moves to the Yorkshire Dales and meets the brothers who run the practice, not only stands up to the test of time, it’s even more fun and soothing as the world gets more complicated. I went a step further, reading Herriot’s short stories about cats to my bed-ridden father. We both laughed, astounded at Herriot’s grasp of the animal and human world and his sense of humor. More research revealed that Herriot, which was a pen name, suffered from depression, something his son shared in a frank but loving biography about his father. It’s not surprising to me that a man who could so deeply relate to other species had some demons of his own. It doesn’t diminish from his accomplishments in the slightest. It just makes his literary output, and his humanity, even more impressive. 


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Watership Down

By Richard Adams

Watership Down

Why this book?

This adventure story is set in England is about a colony of rabbits trying to establish a community as they leave the safety of their warren. They’re led by a pair of brave brothers and they encounter tragedy, humans, other enemies along the way. Loads of people say it has political undertones, but to me, it’s about family and holding it together when nothing is going right. I still remember this book decades later. My husband and I occasionally quote the funnier scenes. As I age, it’s the charming things I remember about this book, not the sad parts. This is a classic.





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The Story of Edgar Sawtelle

By David Wroblewski

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle

Why this book?

This is one of those books that grabs you by the teeth immediately. It’s worth previewing a few pages. If you don’t love the story and the setting, which is a gorgeously described farm with a large role in the story, it’s not your thing. The book is a coming-of-age retelling of Hamlet and considered to be a fine example of The Great American Novel and was a book club pick by Oprah. Honestly, these are the least important things about this book. What I still clearly remember is the raw emotions, the tender portrayal of the mute boy forced to become a man, saving his dogs and hopefully, his family. 


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Charlotte's Web

By E. B. White, Kate DiCamillo, Garth Williams

Charlotte's Web

Why this book?

Some Pig. If this sentence means nothing to you, stop right now and find a copy of this classic. It’s a masterpiece of literature about what it means to be human. I’m not sure how many times my mother read this book to me before I read it myself. What is crystal clear is the summer day I lined up for the movie version and was enveloped in the dark and the story. Rather than a sinking feeling of disappointment at losing the inner world of the story to a mediocre film rendering, I was enchanted. Decades later, it was great fun introducing my two daughters to this lovely book. 


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