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September 22, 2006 12:04 PM   Subscribe

Books about people and animals -- the less cheesy the better -- any suggestions?

I'm looking for books about how people relate to animals, about people trying to make friends with animals or cross over into the world of some other species. Or for books that try to give you a view into the particular world of some other animal. The better the writing, the better. The less cheesy the better. Nonfiction and fiction are okay. Any recommendations?
posted by salvia to Writing & Language (43 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Pack of Two - Caroline Knapp
posted by vizsla at 12:06 PM on September 22, 2006

The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka.
posted by spasm at 12:07 PM on September 22, 2006

Never Cry Wolf by Farley Mowat is excellent. Much better than the Disneyfied movie version.
posted by cosmicbandito at 12:09 PM on September 22, 2006

The Other End of the Leash

Specifically about dogs, (not sure if that's what you're looking for) but it gives great insight into our sometimes very complicated relationships with them.
posted by bradn at 12:09 PM on September 22, 2006

Life of Pi, Yann Martel
posted by mikepop at 12:10 PM on September 22, 2006

Life of Pi.
posted by ruby.aftermath at 12:11 PM on September 22, 2006

posted by ruby.aftermath at 12:11 PM on September 22, 2006

Most anything by Jane Goodall on her work with chimpanzees would fit the bill. Her Wikipedia entry has a bibliography; many of her works have won awards.
posted by slenderloris at 12:12 PM on September 22, 2006

Watership Down
Tailchaser's Song by Tad Williams
The Abandoned by Paul Gallico
lots of stuff by Farley Mowat
are ones that I loved as a young adult, or have known teens who loved. They might count as pretty cheesey though.

There are lots of good nonfiction books about primates.
Try an Amazon search for books by Dian Fossey or Jane Goodall; then see what other similar results you get.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:17 PM on September 22, 2006

Response by poster: These are great -- keep them coming! :) To contribute to the list, here are a few I've read lately--

* Julie and the Wolves, where Julie survives being lost on the tundra by figuring out how to communicate with wolves and half-joining a wolf pack. (It's for 12-year-olds, so it might be a bit boring for adults, but it has great descriptions of her life among these wolves.)

* In Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, most animals have died out, so animals are now one of the most valuable things in the world. Some have to buy electric ones, but they dream of owning a real living and breathing animal, if only they could afford to buy one. The main character finds a frog thought to be completely extinct, in a poignant moment near the end.

* I'm almost done reading Jim Harrison's The Beast God Forgot to Invent. A character with brain damage becomes half-wild -- he loses his ability to remember things, spends his days wandering through the forest and swimming in a bog, and becomes keenly interested in plants and animals. He ends up trying to track a beast only he can see. The story is half about how he lives, and half about how this feral man makes others feel about their own life. (And God, is Harrison ever a good writer. He's really good at capturing people's moment-by-moment thoughts.)

Just throwing these out to spark your thoughts!
posted by salvia at 12:28 PM on September 22, 2006

I've got your fiction horse books covered here:
My Friend Flicka
The Red Pony
The Black Stallion, and other Walter Farley books
Misty of Chincoteague, and other Marguerite Henry books

See also The Yearling (deer). Depending on your interests, you may also look at Koko and his Kitten, and other books about Koko (a gorilla who learned ESL and painted, among other things.)
posted by whatzit at 12:29 PM on September 22, 2006

Yeah, it's a comic book, but you should really check out Grant Morrison's We3.
posted by Skot at 12:33 PM on September 22, 2006

Sigh. Of course I forgot the link. We3.
posted by Skot at 12:34 PM on September 22, 2006

King Rat by China Mieville.
posted by spasm at 12:35 PM on September 22, 2006

Temple Grandin, Animals in Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior. Probably not for "animal lovers"—Grandin is a slaughterhouse engineer—but an excellent insight into what and how animals think.
posted by infinitewindow at 12:37 PM on September 22, 2006

Jack London-- The Call of the Wild, White Fang, many others (maybe not actually "correct" in terms of animal behaviors, but about as realistic as Julie and the Wolves).

Temple Grandin observes livestock and writes about them.

Clan Apis by Jay Hosler is a graphic novel about bees that is meticulously researched in terms of bee behavior.
posted by holyrood at 12:41 PM on September 22, 2006

(and infinite window posted in the 2 seconds between preview and post! d'oh!)
posted by holyrood at 12:42 PM on September 22, 2006

All Creatures Great and Small - I read it as a teenager and it really fed my love for animals. Herriot is (or writes about) a farm town veterinarian. His other books are just as wonderful, as I recall.
posted by muddgirl at 12:44 PM on September 22, 2006

Wild Anuimals I have Known is another great one, and it's free on project Gutenberg
posted by cosmicbandito at 12:51 PM on September 22, 2006

Seabiscuit, An American Legend by Anne Hillenbrand

Way, waaaaay better than the movie. I can't explain how much better. Funny, truthful, poignant and one of the best sports psychology reads I can recommend.
posted by lonefrontranger at 12:53 PM on September 22, 2006

Man Meets Dog by Konrad Lorenz
(any of his books, really)
posted by maryh at 1:09 PM on September 22, 2006

Rafi Zabor's The Bear Comes Home.
posted by sad_otter at 1:35 PM on September 22, 2006

Seconding (Thirding?) Animals in Translation by Temple Grandin.

Not sure what qualifies as "cheesy", so I'll recommend Watchers by Dean Koontz and let you be the judge.
posted by INTPLibrarian at 1:44 PM on September 22, 2006

Jon Katz has several very good books about dogs.

Mark Derr's Man's Best Friend is quite excellent (also about dogs).
posted by OmieWise at 1:45 PM on September 22, 2006

I'm a big fan of Gerald Durrell's books--lots of anecdotes about his experiences collecting animals for zoos and conservation efforts. The Stationary Ark, which is specifically about zoos and zoo design, might get into some of the animal psychology stuff you're looking for.

There's also Raptor Red, by Robert Bakker--it's a very well-done biography of a velociraptor.
posted by fermion at 1:47 PM on September 22, 2006 [1 favorite]

Animals and Men, by Kenneth Clark.

I find it impossible to describe, impossible to do more than salute the brilliance of this book. Clark produces a small essay-- in many cases no more than a caption-- for each work of art pictured, but I've gotten more insight from that juxtaposition in many instances than from books I've read from cover to cover with close attention.
posted by jamjam at 2:07 PM on September 22, 2006

OK I really don't know if this book is any good, but if it's human-animal relationships you're after, you must at least check out the reviews of Lobster.

On a more serious note, how about Timothy; or, Notes of an Abject Reptile?

Also, perhaps, the short story "A House Taken Over," by Cortazar, which appears in English in Blow-up.
posted by lampoil at 2:11 PM on September 22, 2006

Response by poster: INTP librarian, what I meant by cheesy was something like, Where the Red Fern Grows. Though I haven't read it recently, so maybe I shouldn't diss it. Definitely anything Disney, cute little mice behaving exactly like people, way too cheesy.

I don't know where Watchers fits -- it cracks me up that you mentioned it! (In a good way.) I read it 15 years ago, and I hadn't thought of it at all. I bet I'd get something new if I read it through this lens.

I hadn't thought of reading about dogs or horses. I'd been thinking more about the human trying to fit into a wilder animal world than about trying to fit animals into our world, about people having to engage animals on their own terms. But now that I think about it, dogs' minds are a whole different world from ours. All of these sound interesting -- thanks for the suggestions, everyone, and I look forward to hearing more!
posted by salvia at 2:15 PM on September 22, 2006

Stories of children raised by (or as) animals go back at least as far as Romulus and Remus. More recent literary versions are Burroughs' Tarzan series and Kipling's Jungle Book: Mowgli's Story. Films based on accounts of actual feral children include Truffaut's L'enfant sauvage (The Wild Child) and Herzog's Jeder für sich und Gott gegen alle (The Mystery of Kaspar Hauser).

Most recent and perhaps oddest of all is the plight of a Fijian man named Sunjit Kumar who spent several formative years in a chicken coop. He eventually escaped and, believed mentally ill, was institutionalized for 20 years. Finally, a visiting aid worker rescued him, and he is undergoing rehabilitation. According to the 2004 report linked above, his ability to communicate is improving, and he "shows no sign of mental illness, is being toilet trained and is no longer pecking at his food."
posted by rob511 at 2:33 PM on September 22, 2006

Touching Spirit Bear is an awesome book.

Can't forget the classic Old Yeller
posted by lain at 2:41 PM on September 22, 2006

Cry of the Kalahari is fascinating non-fiction.
posted by lalex at 2:41 PM on September 22, 2006

While not exactly a scientific tome, Christopher Moore's book Fluke is an entertaining look at the inner workings of the the whale world.

"All killer whales are named Kevin. You knew that right?"

posted by quin at 2:41 PM on September 22, 2006

Several excellent recommendations here. I want to second and support the recommendation of any and all of the James Herriot books as well as Konrad Lorenz, especially "Man meets Dog", and Seabiscuit. Certainly there are lots more possibilities but all of the above speak to the close relationships of humans and animals.
posted by X4ster at 3:31 PM on September 22, 2006

The Sword In The Stone by T H White has some lovely and detailed episodes with the young Arthur being transformed into animals. It's been years since I read it but I remember some of those episodes very clearly even now.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 3:46 PM on September 22, 2006

Second Gerald Durrell. Truly excellent.

Also, Ring of Bright Water is an excellent tale of a man and his otter pets. Maybe a little cheesy, but a classic.
posted by one_bean at 4:09 PM on September 22, 2006

Bones Would Rain From The Sky by Suzanne Clothier.

The Culture Clash by Jean Donaldson (this book has changed more people's ways of thinking about dogs than any book I know - and it's snarky/funny too).
posted by biscotti at 4:48 PM on September 22, 2006

Jeffrey Masson's books are very interesting. Try The Pig Who Sang To The Moon.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 4:51 PM on September 22, 2006

I don't think Ring of Bright Water is cheesy at all, one_bean, it's wonderful-- and more topical than you might imagine. Christopher Hitchens gave the restoration of the swamp habitat from which Mijbil, the otter protagonist of Ring' came, and that Saddam Hussein had drained more than 90% of, as one of his main reasons for favoring the Iraq War and switching over to the side of the NeoCons. I've often wondered if Mijbil and the fate of all his kin were factors in Hitchen's very surprising choice.
posted by jamjam at 4:52 PM on September 22, 2006

Several books by Stephen Meader: Bat, the Story of a Bull Terrier, Wild Pony Island, Red Horse Hill and Cedar's Boy. All of his books are back in print via Southern Skies.
posted by Rash at 4:53 PM on September 22, 2006

Not a book, but you would probably like watching
'Grizzly Man'
posted by dragonsi55 at 8:57 PM on September 22, 2006

My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell is a book of this type that I very much enjoyed.
posted by Melinika at 9:48 PM on September 22, 2006

"In Timbuktu Paul Auster tackles homelessness in America using a dog as his point-of-view character.'s been done before, in John Berger's King, and it actually works."

Highly recommend the Auster novel, have yet to read the King one.
posted by ceri richard at 12:17 AM on September 23, 2006

I know I'm late to the party, but I'd like to add a couple of books: Mind of the Raven: Investigations and Adventures with Wolf Birds and Ravens in Winter by Bernd Henrich.
posted by jdroth at 8:44 AM on September 25, 2006

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