Spoiler alert: this post will reveal the endings of several books.
Why would I do that to you? Because I don’t want you to suffer as I have!
With apologies to Dewey, whose story really is quite charming, I don’t have the stomach for any more books where the beloved animal companion dies somewhere during the narrative. It’s bad enough at the end, after you’ve invested several hours of your life in the happiness and well-being of the cute little fuzz-face. But when the demise comes in the middle, as it does in the case of Darwin, well, it’s almost too much for my tenderhearted sensibilities to handle (sometimes I have to sneak off to the stacks with a box of tissues to get over it–don’t tell my boss). Contrary to stereotype, librarians don’t get to sit around reading books all day: we squeeze it into our breaks and lunch like everybody else, and I really don’t want to spend that time getting attached to a cute little kittycat only to have my heart broken in the end!
I suppose you could make the argument that such books teach us about the intrinsic worth of life, and the gentling effect a companion animal can have on one’s personal growth. By acknowledging the presence of death, you might protest, we more deeply appreciate how precious life is for all creatures on earth, the great and the small.
To which I would probably respond, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, whatever. Bring on the happy endings! And try to find a story with a llama in it.”
If, like me, you’re tired of books where the dog, cat, or marmoset meets his/her maker, you might enjoy these true-life tales of people and their pets.
An increase of geese
When scientist and nature writer Bern Heinrich finds and fosters a gosling near his rural Vermont home, he paves the way for this chronicle of the life and times of a handful of Canada geese. After discovering the bird he called Peep in the bog, Henrich endured all sorts of weather to gain her trust and access to her goosey world. The result is a meticulous record of the adventures of Peep, her mate Pap, and their compatriots in The Geese of Beaver Bog. The entries are written in journal format, so it’s easy to pick up and put down this volume at will. Conversely, you can completely immerse yourself in the soap opera-ish antics of the birds who engage in behaviors that seem, at times, uncannily human. Given that Henrich’s prose is both witty and clear, and that his respect for nature shines through every line, this is remarkably easy to do.
Full disclosure: A number of gosling eggs do not, regrettably, make it to maturity.
A not-so-secret squirrel
If tough-love inspirational hilarity is more your style, you might enjoy Bill Goss’s memoir, There’s A Flying Squirrel In My Coffee. A Naval pilot, Lt. Commander Goss was diagnosed with a rare form of skin cancer at the height of his professional success. Into this grim landscape came Rocky the flying squirrel, who turned the Goss household upside down with his antics, and gave the fighter pilot a reason to keep on battling. Filled with action-packed sentences, amusing anecdotes, family values and medical minutiae, this book will appeal to readers who like their animal tales with a bit of a rough-and-tumble edge.
Full disclosure: Although the book is cruelty-free, I’m forced to admit that Goss’s webpage contains additional information on Rocky and his mate, Bitsy. Don’t read the entry for July 4, 2007. Trust me.
Those of you who thought I was kidding a few paragraphs ago will want to pick up Rosana Hart’s Living With Llamas, the story of the author’s experiences raising, breeding, and selling llamas during the 70s and 80s. Loaded with pictures and complete with a resource guide at the end, this book is a great start for anyone curious about llamas (more up-to-date info and contacts can be found here). However, the real selling point of this tome is its up-close-and-personal peek at all aspects of llama life, including birth, communication, feeding habits, and personality quirks. Like Goss, Hart relies on amusing anecdotes to tell her tale; her style, however, is gentler, simpler, and more matter-of-fact, letting the llamas’ individual personalities take center stage.
Full disclosure: Okay, one adult llama dies in this book, and there is a close call with another llama that had me on the edge of my chair. However, in this case, it was decidedly worth it.
Last, but certainly not least, Walking Ollie is a recent entry in the abundant crop of animal memoirs. Author Stephen Foster thought caring for a dog would be relatively simple. Then he adopted Ollie, a shelter dog with a will of his own. A tone of gentle befuddlement, with occasional bouts of consternation, permeates Foster’s tale, and the book is as much about the author’s gradual realization that animals have distinct personality traits as it is about Ollie’s training and assimilation into the Foster family. The final chapter, in particular, is a gentle testament to the matter-of-fact, everyday love, tinged with reminders of mortality, that can crop up between a person and her/his pet.
No bad dogs!
As I was looking for books to write about in this post, Bonnie clued me in to a work of fiction I will probably pick up next: Gordon Korman’s No More Dead Dogs, which is about a mischievous pre-teen who feels much the same way I do about pooch mortality. I’m hoping it will distract me from the vague dismay I felt upon picking up pick after non-fiction pick only to cast it aside, with watering eyes (quit laughing – I can hear you out there). I suppose this means I’m in the readerly minority on that score, or maybe it’s just impossible to write of love without writing about the inevitable end that comes to us all, be we fleshy. feathered, or four-footed.
Be that as it may, I’m going to hold off on Alex and Me until I can get an advance confirmation of Alex’s survival. And I stand firm in my resolution to do advance recon on all the animal memoirs for you…just in case. Happy animal book readers of the world, unite!