The best books on the ways that animals redeem us

Who am I?

Ever since I was a child, sitting on fallen logs in the forest and making notes on the wildlife, I have been an admirer of animals and their mysteries. That animals feel pain, fear, and affection is obvious, and while we are warned against anthropomorphism, I think the greater mistake is in limiting them to the range of human feelings. I am especially intrigued with the subject of consciousness, believing that all creatures possess their own version of it. In studying the cognizance of other beings, we become better humans, more aware of the unity of all living things. While we have no idea how far we can go in our understanding of animal behavior, it is thrilling to consider the possibilities of this frontier.

I wrote...

Survival Skills: Stories

By Jean Ryan,

Book cover of Survival Skills: Stories

What is my book about?

The characters who inhabit Jean Ryan’s graceful, imaginative collection of stories are survivors of accidents and acts of nature, of injuries both physical and emotional. Ryan writes of beauty and aging, of love won and lost—with characters enveloped in the mysteries of the natural world and the animal kingdom.

In “Greyhound,” a woman brings home a rescued dog for her troubled partner in hopes that they might heal one another—while the dog in “What Gretel Knows” is the keeper of her owner’s deepest secrets. In “Migration,” a recently divorced woman retreats to a lakefront cabin where she is befriended by a mysterious Canada goose just as autumn begins to turn to winter. As a tornado ravages three towns in “The Spider in the Sink,” a storm chaser’s wife spares the life of a spider as she anxiously waits for her husband to return. And in “A Sea Change,” a relationship falls victim to a woman’s obsession with the world below the waves.

The books I picked & why

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Turtle Diary

By Russell Hoban,

Book cover of 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.”

Sightings: Extraordinary Encounters with Ordinary Birds

By Sam Keen,

Book cover of 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.

The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating

By Elisabeth Tova Bailey,

Book cover of 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.

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

By Sy Montgomery,

Book cover of 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.

Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel

By Carl Safina,

Book cover of 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?

5 book lists we think you will like!

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And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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