Yep, that's right. It's time for the Fully Vetted annual animal book roundup! Every year I try to offer you the best of the animal book genre, past and present. Though I happen to take extreme liberties with the topic (sourcing books that may merely remind me of animal issues, for example), it's usually a popular post.
And, as always, your comments offer gobs of new material to gift, or to gorge on, over the coming year.
Without further ado, here's this year's top ten (in no particular order, I assure you):
1. Fire by Kristen Cashore
Though it doesn't get highest marks for the brilliance of its prose, this young adult book offers a captivating story set in an otherworldly, Earth-like place. It dwells on monstrous humans and animals and, through their plight, offers us an interesting meditation on personal choices when it comes to unwanted genetic traits.
2. Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer
This one's a clear winner, from a masterly prose-about-animals standpoint. Too bad I ultimately don't buy his arguments in favor of vegetarianism. Still, I found it to be a great read, and I feel that anyone interested in vegetarianism/veganism and the politics of food should devour it. (Couldn't help it.)
3. Animals Make Us Human: Creating the Best Life for Animals by Temple Grandin
Following up on her books, Making Animals Happy, Animals in Translation and Humane Livestock Handling, Grandin works her inimitable magic yet again with another discussion of what our animals need — though this time it's more to do with their emotional needs than their physical requirements. Unmissable.
4. Art and Max by David Wiesner
I had to love this book. Not only is Max my son's middle name (and nickname), this story of a friendship between two lizards is also about why art (also one of the lizard's names, as the title indicates) is so deeply important. This is an irresistible kid's book for the early reader.
5. The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival by John Vaillant
A fully vetted true story that tells of a remote Russian Amur tiger who planned his revenge on a prey-thieving poacher; more evidence in favor of complex animal emotion and capacity for reason. Do you like travel fiction, too? This one's a double whammy.
6. Ubiquitous: Celebrating Nature's Survivors by Joyce Sidman and Beckie Prange
Yes, it's another kid's book, but WOW is it worth hanging out in the children's section to plow through this super-cool book on nature's ubiquitous underdogs. No, it's not about the super-weird, show-stopping, mega-fauna a lot of kids’ books tend to showcase. From the lowly and ancient diatom to the more newly erected Homo sapiens, these animals are absolutely spectacular and shine in all their common glory.
7. Second Nature: The Inner Lives of Animals by Jonathan Balcombe
This is a great read that makes a persuasive argument for the very real and highly complex inner lives of animals. Though it ultimately delves into polemic (sense a theme?), I do believe it's among the best argument for vegetarianism I've ever read. Unfortunately, Balcombe relies almost exclusively on factory farming's humane and environmental failings to make his case. Where's the backyard farmer, JB?
8. Farm by Elisha Cooper
I promise, my last book about food and farming. It’s also my last book on this list for kids. It’s illustrated in gorgeous watercolors and is perhaps the year's most evocative argument in favor of the slow food movement.
9. Man in the Woods by Scott Spencer
A man and his dog at a rest stop. That's all I'm going to say. You won't be able to put it down.
10. Duncan the Wonder Dog by Adam Hines
It's a graphic novel, but I promise you it's apropos for all ages beyond the first, most sensitive decade. It's to do with a world in which animals can speak their minds … and they do so eloquently on the subject of their treatment by humans. Find it next to the manga section of your local bookstore, or buy it on Amazon.
Yes, my choices run heavily towards children's lit, but doesn't most of our best animal fiction? I think so, seeing as Black Beauty is perhaps the best animal book ever written. But then, there's always room for disagreement.
So, whatever your favorites are, whether they're this year's, last year’s, or those you consider the best animal reads of all time, offer them up below. Curious readers and last-minute gift-givers want to know.
Dr. Patty Khuly
P.S. - I just HAD to include this pic from Cheekunlol, since the book in the shot (The Book Thief) happens to have been on my personal list of the best books I read in 2009.