On Animals, by Susan Orlean. Pub 2021
I really enjoyed Orlean’s previous book The Library Book, so was looking forward to her writing on animals. I didn’t appreciate until I started reading it that this is a) a collection of essays rather than a focused book and b) said essays range from 1995 to 2021, with most being more than 10 years old. That was a bit disappointing. However, Orlean’s style and subject matter here make many of these essays timeless and enjoyable.
Orlean starts with explaining her own fascination and relationships with animals, starting with a pet dog and progressing to her small poultry farm, including her aspirations for one day having a donkey. From this grounding in her love of animals with both feather and fur, she explores all manner of creatures and their relationships with humans. There are lions and tigers and bears, several beasts of burden, various birds, and one whale. As several of the stories were quite dated, each involved me googling the protagonists to see what had happened to them since. Happily, the donkey doctor, the lion whisperer, and Bao Bao the panda are still active. Biff the boxer and Keiko the whale, sadly, are not.
While these are stories about animals, they are more correctly about animals and people. Whether as family pets, domestic farm animals, or wild creatures for protection or study, the human-animal connection is not impartial, and each relationship is unique to human and beast.
Orlean is an excellent writer, and someone I wish there was more of to read (a bit like another favourite, Anne Fadiman). Fortunately, many of her essays (esp. in The New Yorker) are available on demand, and so waiting for another book is not required.
Fate: given the animal subject matter, I might try imposing this book on a friend, as the short essays and furry or feathered subject may be right up her street. Otherwise, it will go to another gentle reader.
8 – female author
10 – essays
13 – somewhere I’ve never been (Hudson Valley, NY; Morocco; Spain; Los Angeles; Iceland)
Leave a Reply