Animals appeal to a lot of people for different reasons. They bring out in us both the hunting instinct and the mothering instinct, and to some of us they are the best friends we have ever had or the thing we are most afraid of. We have a strong tendency to anthropomorphise them by ascribing to them human emotions, abilities and personalities.
I have read my share of animal books and I have come up with some lists based on my reading. The one below covers books I have liked that are about animals or feature animals in pivotal roles as themselves without attempts to anthropomorphise them. Some time or other I will post the others.
- Encounters with Animals by Gerald Durrell. Essays. Animals: Various. As much as I would have liked to put My family and other Animals on this list, it simply is not enough of an animal book to count here. I could actually have named several other Durrell titles, but this one is almost entirely about specific animal characters and not about one of his expeditions with animal characterisations thrown in.
- The Cat Who Covered The World: The Adventures of Henrietta and Her Foreign Correspondent by Christopher S. Wren. Memoir. Animal: Domestic cat. The Wren family took their pet, Henrietta, with them to postings all over the world, including Paris, Moscow, Cairo and Beijing. That she managed to reach the age of 18 after being an outdoor cat in all of these places (even living as a stray in Cairo for several weeks) is testament to the resilience of cats.
- Rosie is My Relative by Gerald Durrell. Novel. Animal: Elephant. Durrell claims that this is a “nearly true story” which he has merely embroidered, but whatever the truth of that statement might be, it is highly entertaining. About a young man who inherits a circus elephant and sets out to find her a new home.
- Rascal: A Memoir of a Better Era by Sterling North. Memoir. Animal: Raccoon. I loved this book as a kid and am therefore putting it here even though I remember almost nothing about it except some snippets about the eponymous raccoon.
- My Friend Flicka, Thunderhead, and Green Grass of Wyoming by Mary O’Hara. Trilogy of novels. Animals: Horses. A coming-of-age story about a boy on a farm in Wyoming and his horses.
- All Creatures Great and Small and its sequels, by James Herriott. Novelised memoirs. Animals: Various pets and farm animals. Describing the life of a vet in the Yorkshire Dales, these books are based on the author’s life as a vet in Thirsk (named “Darrowby” in the books).
- The Secret Life of Lobsters by Trevor Corson. Popular science. Animals: Lobsters.I couldn’t resist putting one science book on this list. He manages to make these crustaceans as endearing as cats or dogs, which is quite feat considering they’re primarily seen as food.
- Born Free: A lioness of two worlds by Joy Adamson. Memoir. Animal: Lion. Another book I dearly loved as a child. About the a pet lion and her eventual release into the wild.
- Travels on my Elephant by Mark Shand. Travelogue. Animal: Elephant. Shand bought an elephant in India and travelled around on her back in southern and central India.
- Seabiscuit: An American Legend by Laura Hillenbrand. History. Animal: Race horse. Seabiscuit isn’t just about Seabiscuit the race horse. It is also a portrait of three men – his owner, his trainer and his jockey - and the era they lived in, with the horse tying everything together.
Jaws by Peter Benchley. Novel - thriller. Animal: Great white shark. The shark is off-stage for most of the book, but when it does make an appearance - wow! Even when off-stage it permeates the book from beginning to end.
Why Marley and Me by John Grogan isn’t on the list: Because of all the maudlin “beloved pet as a teacher of life lessons” twaddle in the final chapters. I greatly enjoyed the book right up to that point but can’t really recommend it on this score.
An animal book I’d like to read:
Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World by Vicki Myron and Bret Witter.