Check out anyone’s social media feed, and chances are good it’s as full of pets as it is of kids. In the last few decades, we have developed an intimacy with our domesticated animals that’s pretty much unprecedented; witness how we now give them human names as opposed to the “Smokey,” “Fluffy,” and “Spot” monikers of yesteryear, and how canine and feline diets are often as organic and carb-conscious as our own. As an unabashed cat lady – though I prefer the sultrier, less-spinster-like title of “cat woman” – I see no problem with this trend. Animals provide unconditional love; animals remind us to stay present; animals never ignore our text messages. And judging from these wonderful books about the relationships between humans and animals, I’m not alone in my animal passions. (Note: These books make excellent gifts for the misanthrope in your life.)
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J.R. Ackerley, Introduction by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas
British writer and editor J. R. Ackerley didn’t even like dogs much until he found himself the kept man of Tulip, a German shepherd with tastes as particular as his own. Droll, dry, and tenderhearted (aka eminently British), this memoir will hurt the heart of anyone who’s lived alone with a dear pet.
A well-known animal lover (her friends called her Goat), Virginia Woolf was so charmed by poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s cocker spaniel Flush that she wrote an autobiography about him. Yep, you read that right: The author of Orlando and A Room of One’s Own wrote a whole charming tale from a pup’s perspective. Whimsical and warmhearted, this is easily Woolf’s most loose-limbed literary effort.
Why We Do What We Do Around Dogs
Patricia McConnell, Ph.D.
“Pay attention to your own behavior. Believe me, your dog is,” writes animal behaviorist Patricia McConnell, who specializes in improving the relationships between dogs and their troubled (and troublesome) owners. In this useful guide for improving human-canine communication, she shows us how our signals do and do not soothe un-savage beasts.
Temple Grandin and Catherine Johnson
Arguably the most famous American with autism, Temple Grandin also has won accolades for her humane cattle slaughter systems. Here she offers insight into animal emotions based on her belief that they are not unlike her own. One takeaway: Animals really do not like hugs, no matter how much we like giving them!
We all know the best YA writing is not just for young adults, and the Bowser and Birdie books are a great example of this phenomenon. Anyone who digs mysteries as much as their pets will appreciate these suspense novels about a detective’s daughter and her slobbery dog gifted with an extraordinary sense of smell and flair for storytelling (the books are written from the pup point of view).
During her life, May Sarton, who passed away in 1995) was best known for her poetry, but her published diaries – especially Journal of a Solitude – have aged best with one exception. The Fur Person, her tale about a stray cat who becomes a cherished member of a writer’s household, channels her nuanced tenderness with a sly wit not always in evidence in her other work.
Cats have always threaded through activist and author Marge Piercy’s volumes of poetry and prose, and animal characters often are as clearly drawn as human characters. It’s no surprise, then, that the author’s one memoir focuses with her signature lack of sentimentality on the feline companions she’s enjoyed on her long and rich journey through life.
The Intricate Bond Between People and Dogs
Best known for Drinking: A Love Story, Caroline Knapp, who died in 2001 at the age of forty-one, also wrote this journalistic yet keenly personal exploration of how humans’ relationships with dogs have changed over the generations. Included are breathtakingly candid confessions about the intimacy she was able to achieve with her shepherd mix Lucille and no one else.
A man and his dog, traveling through our glorious ruin of a country: Could there be a more Steinbeckian subject? In short, no, and the Grapes of Wrath author is at his best in this beautiful, sad, and true account of a 1960 road trip with his standard poodle.
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Seven Experiments That Could Change the World author Rupert Sheldrake deftly bridges the gap between science and spirituality in all his work. Here, he taps into his background as a physicist to explain what amounts to the psychic abilities of our pets. Not everyone will buy what Sheldrake is selling, but his assessments – lucid, compassionate, and often quite clever – will resonate with anyone who really loves their animal friends.