The best books on the ways that animals redeem us

The Books I Picked & Why

Turtle Diary

By Russell Hoban

Turtle Diary

Why this book?

Turtle Diary is one of my all-time favorite books. The intimate tone pulls the reader in immediately. Hoban alternates point of view between William and Neera, two lonely Londoners who accomplish a heroic feat and manage to rescue themselves in the process. The writing is spare and beautiful, peppered with delightful asides and observations: “She had a theatre programme in her hand, fresh air and perfume had come in with her. Her blonde hair and leopardskin coat looked as if they’d go out even if she stayed at home.”


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Sightings: Extraordinary Encounters with Ordinary Birds

By Sam Keen

Sightings: Extraordinary Encounters with Ordinary Birds

Why this book?

In Sightings, Sam Keen lays a gentle hand on your shoulder and invites you to share in his love affair with birds. From the Indigo Bunting to the Lord God bird, he describes his various encounters, weaving bits of his own history with illuminating glimpses into the avian realm. This slim volume is beautifully illustrated with paintings by Mary Woodin and venerable quotes, reminding us that the world, viewed up close, is a sacred place designed for those with open hearts.


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The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating

By Elisabeth Tova Bailey

The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating

Why this book?

As soon as it was published, The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating became a classic. No one had ever written about the lowly snail with such tenderness and respect. Stricken by a mysterious illness and confined to her bed, Elisabeth Tova Bailey is gifted with a woodland violet. Inside the pot, Bailey discovers a snail, which she begins to study minute by minute. What she learns about her guest--how it moves, eats, sleeps, and reproduces--will forever change your perspective on this common mollusk. Her writing is gorgeous and addictive, transporting us to a miniature world that mirrors our own daily struggles.


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The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration Into the Wonder of Consciousness

By Sy Montgomery

The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration Into the Wonder of Consciousness

Why this book?

The Soul of an Octopus follows Sy Montgomery’s journey into an underwater world of secrets and surprises. As a guest at the New England Aquarium, she is privileged to study the giant Pacific octopus, an animal whose intelligence and canniness we are only beginning to understand. Montgomery often has the feeling that the octopuses she observes are evaluating her with equal curiosity, reaching out with several arms to touch and smell her skin. Meeting their gaze makes her think “of the look in the eyes of paintings of Hindu gods and goddesses: serene, all-knowing, heavy with wisdom stretching back beyond time.” Acknowledging that we will likely never know what an octopus--or any animal--is thinking, the author is left with a sweeping respect for this highly sensitive and multi-faceted creature.


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Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel

By Carl Safina

Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel

Why this book?

Beyond Words is one of the most compelling books you will ever read. Carl Safire is graced with the ability to present stunning facts in a beautiful and seemingly effortless manner. Besides a trove of knowledge, what you take away after reading this masterpiece is the certainty that every species on this planet is related and deserving of attention. Reading about the complex behaviours of the animals he features, we find ourselves asking the same questions the author poses: What do you feel? What are you communicating? What is it like to be you?


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