- Jennifer Ackerman, The Bird Way: A New Look At How Birds Talk, Work, Play, Parent, And Think, 2020. From the Science Magazine review: “From tales of dazzling plumage to anecdotes about almost unfathomable mimicry, Jennifer Ackerman’s The Bird Way is a walk through the mysteries, wonders, and peculiarities of the avian world . . . Ackerman’s excitement and love for it are evident in her writing. Her superb storytelling paints a rich picture that engages the reader’s imagination, making sometimes-hard-to-grasp research accessible.” I’ve ordered this one and can’t wait for it to arrive!
- Peter Alison, Whatever You Do, Don't Run, 2014. So good! So funny! Also, very good advice (don't run!) if you do happen to run into a lion. Which I wouldn't recommend under any circumstances, BUT, if you were going to run into a lion and wanted someone with experience next to you, you could check out the lodges that Peter Allison & several other people have opened under the slightly dodgy name, Natural Selection.
- Helen MacDonald, Vesper Flights, 2020. It’s no exaggeration to say that MacDonald’s first book, H is for Hawk might have saved my life after my Dad died — I read and re-read it obsessively — so I am both extremely excited, and also maybe a little nervous to read her second book. I probably shouldn’t be nervous, though; apparently it’s just as much of a powerhouse, but in a different way, which I think is great. From the NPR review: “This is not the follow-up to Helen Macdonald’s breakthrough book, H Is for Hawk and in that sense it may disappoint some of her readers. But it needn’t: in fact, as a selection of Macdonald’s journalism and essays, it provides a series of short blasts of insightful, invigorating nature writing.”
- Sy Montgomery, How to be a Good Creature, 2018. I read Montgomery’s book on octopuses a while ago, so I was already sold on her voice: fun, sweet, a master at describing animal behavior. This memoir, told through 12 animals she has known and loved, is maybe a little *too* sweet, but it also shows off her tremendous empathy with animals. I liked the sections about the animals she met out in the field better than the sections about her pets. We’re all sappy about our pets, and I love reading about people’s adoration for their dogs, but 280 characters on Twitter seems like a better vehicle for that kind of thing rather than a whole chapter. Still, it’s a fun, quick read, and her descriptions of animals really make you feel that you’re right there with her, getting to know some tiny kangaroo or strange Australian bird.
- Jon Mooallem, Wild Ones: A Sometimes Dismaying, Weirdly Reassuring Story about Looking at People Looking at Animals in America, 2013. Really important book to me, Jon looks at a variety of different programs to "save" animals, and tries to make sense of what "wild" even means any more.
- Barack Obama, Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, 1995. The last few chapters in particular concern Obama's return to Kenya and touch on the safari he took there.
- David Allen Sibley, What It's Like to Be a Bird: From Flying to Nesting, Eating to Singing--What Birds Are Doing, and Why, 2020. From the NPR review: "Lingering over every page of What It's Like to Be a Bird, this is what can be seen: The book's beauty mirrors the beauty of birds it describes so marvelously."
- Patrik Svensson, The Book Of Eels: Our Enduring Fascination With The Most Mysterious Creature In The Natural World, 2020. From the Washington Post review: “Svensson has, quite stunningly, discovered in the natural and human history of the European eel a metaphor for his father’s life and a way to explore questions of knowledge, belief and faith.” I’m very much planning on reading this one!
- Paul Theroux, Dark Star Safari: Overland from Cape Town to Cairo, 2003. Theroux served in the Peace Corps in Zimbabwe as a youth, and this book marks his return journey as an acclaimed travel writer many years later. He gives wonderful descriptions of traveling through small African towns, and he weaves into his narrative much cynicism about aid work in Africa that I found really interesting. He's very much writing in the style of an old curmudgeon, but I have a weakness for curmudgeons, so there you go.
When the guide, Fred, said, “don’t look in the eyes of the lion, all you’ll see is dead ponies and unicorns,” I waited till Fred glanced elsewhere and then I looked directly into the eyes of the lioness who was sitting not 10 feet away from me. Fred was right. That’s exactly what was in the lion’s eyes: dead ponies, dead unicorns. And now I’m an addict, I can’t stop looking.
Who are these animals we share the planet with? What are they like? And what’s it like to try to look at them? Please come along with me as I muse on these topics, and feel free to muse along with me.