Award-winning author and longtime New Yorker staff writer Susan Orlean is best known for her 1998 book The Orchid Thief, which was adapted by Charlie Kaufman into the 2002 meta comedy-drama film Adaptation. She also authored 2018’s The Library Book – an immersive 5-year project on the role of public libraries – which centers the devastating, still-unsolved 1986 fire that raged through Los Angeles’ Central Library.
Orleans’ newest work of nonfiction, On Animals, gathers a lifetime of stories and essays that examine the meaning of animal-human relationships. In a reading list for The Week, she shared 6 books that sparked her passion for animals, and explore the power of our connection to them. Find her recommendations below, and complement with the favorite books of beloved primatologist Jane Goodall.
Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry
“Marguerite Henry’s children’s book about two kids living on an island alongside the Chincoteague wild ponies is probably responsible for my passion for animals, and horses in particular. The story was written more than 70 years ago but it’s absolutely timeless.” -SO
My Dog Tulip by J.R. Ackerley
“Another older book that has aged gracefully, this memoir is about resisting, and then completely surrendering to, the love of a dog. There are aspects of the book that are very sad, and some that are a bit strange, but it stands as one of the models for writing about the human-animal relationship.” -SO
Unlikely Friendships by Jennifer Holland
“I originally bought this book, subtitled 47 Remarkable Stories From the Animal Kingdom, to read to my son. But soon I was enthralled as well. All of its stories are about cross-species relationships, and it’s just wonderful.” -SO
H Is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald
“In this gorgeous memoir, Helen Macdonald, a naturalist and falconer, describes making peace with the grief of losing her father while she trains a young goshawk.” -SO
The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery
“This is the only one of these books that completely changed my attitude toward a species. In this case, I went from being neutral about octopuses to being awed by them and their remarkable, sophisticated intelligence. I never imagined I would feel so moved by an eight-legged creature!” -SO
“I had to save the best for last, of course. Also, it seemed only fair to save the book that is the counter-example to the rest of the list; it doesn’t celebrate animals and it doesn’t marvel at our relationship to them. It rages madly against them, or at least against the ultimate antagonist, the dread white whale Moby Dick. All the while, it confirms the potency of our connection to animals. Whether we fear them, eat them, train them, or dream about them, they’re central to our lives.” -SO
(via The Week)