Liz and Gianna are two of a dying breed--traveling sales reps for book publishers--who sell books in Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, and the Deep South. Since we're constantly on the road hawking books, we must find ways to amuse ourselves. So here we've decided to share our anecdotes, adventures, favorite books, and efforts in making the world (or at least these few states) a more literate place to inhabit.
So yeah, I'm obsessed with my cat. I am. We're codependent and he's my abusive lover. But there are many great books with animals in them if you think about it. What is Jaws without the shark? What is Moondogs without the blind, cockfighting rooster named Kelog? (Seriously, you people need to read Moondogs.) What is Moby-Dick without the whale? Boring, boring, and boring. Without animals, Rita Mae Brown wouldn't have launched her super successful cat mystery series and have been reduced to writing about lesbians and stuff.
My favorite book about animals is an easy pick. Stories Rabbits Tell: A Natural and Cultural History of a Misunderstood Creature: Includes 32 Delicious Recipes. [Rabbit is tasty.]
Okay, I made up the last part of that title, but even without it…crazy. I had no idea that rabbits were misunderstood. Are they capable of doing things that I don’t know about? I know they are really excellent at pooping on everything but I am excited to hear about possible hidden talents or uses. [You would approve of their procreational propensities.]
Rub my belly. I dare you.
I refuse to write about any book that has talking animals – as it creeps me out (sorry Yann Martel and Daniel Quinn…. I tried). Animal Farm doesn’t count because these guys mean business and are scary. Scary talking animals are okay. If only Cujo could talk.
Spoiler alert if you haven’t read Old Yeller – STOP reading - I don't want to Marley and Me your ass. Ooops.
I have no idea what my favorite book about an animal is (Liz picked this question and I will just assume her cat Zorro had some input). [Zorro is my god.] I tend to avoid books about animals as I am still recovering from Old Yeller. [G, you should steer clear of The Yearling, then, too. People eat deer.] I am working my way through the grief process but seem to be stuck on denial. And the sequel starring Yeller’s pup, which I am sure was meant to cheer up the millions of scarred sobbing children.... Well guess what, Fred Gipson, it didn’t work. I just focused on the fact that Old Yeller was killed when she had little babies to care for. Terrible. [Yeller was a bitch? How did I miss that?]
I’ve never read Charlotte’s Web – I assume it is also devastating. I mean I know the one pig gets to live but..it's a farm and the animal body count is likely to be pretty high. It's best I avoid it. [Animals talk. Creepy. And the spider dies.]
But I am about to get pretty unoriginal because truly the best book I have ever read about an animal is Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand. I am not a horse person and certainly not a horse race person (unlike my father who let me know in the bluntest of ways that if I didn’t know the story of Seabiscuit then I didn’t know history at all…awkward). I read Seabiscuit the day my father informed me that I was an idiot. The book is just phenomenal. Hillenbrand is quite simply an incredibly gifted writer; you really will not be able to put this book down. Just the imagery of the thousands of fans travelling for miles, all over the country, to see this horse run is breathtaking. He was the hope of a nation, he helped bring a broken country together in a terrible time; can you imagine that? [Just like Zorro!] A not so good looking horse. Now that is a happy story. If you’ve seen the movie, trust me when I tell you the book is so much better. I also had this on audio, read by Campbell Scott, and it's one of the best audio books I have ever listened to (and yes I am including the Harry Potter books too). [Campbell Scott is the audio book god, but Zorro is the universe's god.]
It just now occurred to me that when I was a child I loved watching re-runs of Mr. Ed The Talking Horse...does this have anything to do with my disdain of talking animals? Too much Mr. Ed too soon? So curious.
Guess what?! I'm a cat person. I don't dislike dogs, but since I was seven years old and Fluffinella entered my life, I've related best to cats. We understand each other and share eccentricities. Dogs are easy, but you must work to earn the devotion of a cat. So I'm sticking to books about cats. They are the most beautiful creatures in the world, after all.
I am cat, destroyer of worlds.
The Tiger by John Vaillant features the largest cat in the world, the Siberian Tiger. Set in post-Soviet Russia, Vaillant recounts the true story of an 800 pound kitty that, out of desperation and revenge, becomes a maneater. This tiger was shot by a poacher, but wasn't killed. He tracked down the hunter, waited for him at his hunting cabin, and destroyed him. The guys who discovered the "body" were able to place the remains in a backpack. Tigers are highly intelligent and lethal, but they don't normally seek humans for prey. This particular tiger, though, developed a taste for the other white meat, and several days later killed another woodsman. The Russian version of a game warden was charged with tracking and removing this tiger hunting the members of a remote village.
The Tiger details the complexities of this region of Russia, and this period in history (late '90's), as well as the reasons tigers are poached. This is a humane book about the most dangerous game and the moral ambiguities of an animal lover hunting a cat capable of destroying a person with a swipe of its paw. It's great adventure writing and it's a great cat story.
At first glance, We Were the Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol Oates isn't about animals at all. The book tells the story of a seemingly All-American family that is torn apart one night when the daughter is attacked. Her father can't cope with the assault on his precious girl and she's sent to live with relatives, then eventually lives on her own. It's a devastating book about the ways families betray each other, and it's beautifully written. Why am I mentioning it here? First, We Were the Mulvaneys is one of my favorite books. Second, when Marianne Mulvaney is sent away, the only part of her family who accompanies her is her cat. The cat provides companionship and love in her worst moments. The cat becomes her family, and Marianne even goes so far as to look into kitty dialysis when her pet's kidneys begin to fail. I would have done the same for Fluffinella, back in the day. And let's just all hope that Zorro is immortal.