If you’re anything like me, you’re wondering how the hell you’re going to survive the upcoming winter. And while I do own undergarments designed to keep the weather at bay, I don’t actually want to have to wear them. That is to say, I would prefer to have them, but not need them; I’m simply much too delicate to appreciate all that winter has to offer. Predictably, then, I spend a considerable amount of nature’s coldest season complaining about the wretched cold, and/or hibernating at home with a cuppa, a good book, and a heater that’s frequently on the verge of melting because I’ve turned it up so high. It is the good books I wish to tell you about here.
As you can imagine, my favorite genre is books with an animal theme. I’m not terribly particular as to what specie of animal the book is about, as long as the story is interesting and doesn’t make me weepy. Given that dreadful weather is just around the corner, and given that I’m half-way through reading Tom Cox’s hilariously funny Close Encounters of the Furred Kind, I thought I’d give you a few suggestions to add to your winter must-read list. I rate them on an index from 1 – 4 paws. Here goes:
First and second, naturally, are my own two books, Crazy Critter Lady, and No Better Medicine, both of which fall under the heading of “animal-themed memoir.” CCL begins my experiences rescuing and caring for animals in need, as well as taking care of my own critters. The stories feature cats, ducks, birds, the odd mouse, a couple of frogs, and a horse or two. NBM is the follow-up, with more stories about different animals – more ducks, a lease horse, a donkey or two, several barn urchins of my acquaintance, and the poor man who had no idea what he was getting into when he proposed marriage. As modesty is – or so I’ve been told – a virtue, I will hold back and give my books 3 paws out of 4 each, although I dare say there are some jolly good bits in both of them that will make you LOL.
If you’re in that 1% of the population that fell off the edge of the earth before James Bowen became a household name, I’ll give you the lowdown on his wonderful book, A Street Cat Named Bob. The rest of you go ahead and skip to the next book.
James Bowen was a recovering heroin addict when he found a cat in dire need of food and medical care. As he nursed Bob back to health, Bowen found that the cat was rescuing him every bit as much as he was rescuing it. Finding purpose and responsibility in caring for Bob – two things sorely missing when he was using drugs – helped Bowen finally turn his life around. Together, they faced the challenges of starting over and staying healthy. The real charm of this book, though, is the fact that Bob the cat joined Bowen as he busked on London street corners, and his presence, as any cat lover can imagine, increased the tips people offered by a considerable amount! I give this great book 4 paws! If my rating scale went any higher, I’d give it 10. Also, be sure to read the follow-ups, The World According to Bob, and A Gift from Bob. I haven’t read the children’s books, but I think it’s safe to assume that they, too, are excellent.
After you’ve finished all the Bob books, give a different Bob a try, Bob Tarte. This Bob’s a friend of mine, and has written four books about his own experiences rescuing and caring for animals in need. Bob Tarte has a tremendous sense of humor, and the self-effacing nature of that humor will frequently leave you in stitches. When he’s not napping, Bob finds himself on the receiving end of wife Linda’s determination to add just one more critter to the pack. At last count, they were up to 50 animals – many of whom, happily for Bob, don’t actually live inside the house. I’ll break down Bob’s four books for you here –
Enslaved by Ducks: It started innocently enough when Bob’s wife Linda suggested getting a rabbit. Then came parrots. Ducks. Geese. Cats. Turkeys. Before he knew it, Bob was in over his head and the animals ruled the roost! Bob’s first book is terrific fun and his dry humor makes it a page-turning laugh riot. I give it 4 paws!
Fowl Weather: The follow-up to Enslaved is another laugh riot as the roster of critter residents increases, and Bob stumbles on some valuable life-lessons taught by the wonderful animal characters who share his home. Another 4 paws!
Kitty Cornered: In Bob’s third critter book, he explores the complex relationships between himself and his six cats. Each cat comes with its own special idiosyncrasies, and it’s up to Bob to figure out how to appease them. Navigating between fat cats, needy cats, and scaredy cats, Bob ultimately learns that his felines play by their own rules, and that we humans are mere pawns in the game. Bob could just as easily have called this book Enslaved by Cats! I give it 4 paws!
Feather Brained: Bob’s books are a delight because he injects so much of himself into the pages. He makes an art form of laziness, and his short attention span is legendary. Indeed, Bob’s pokes at himself are some of the best parts of all four of his books. One of the funniest bits in Feather Brained is how he casually mentions, over the course of 198 pages, the numerous pairs of binoculars he purchased, the price of which continued to increase commensurately along with his interest in birds. Whether you like birding, enjoy birds from a distance, or don’t care about them at all, you’ll enjoy Feather Brained because birds are only part of the story. Bob’s caustic relationship with his birding buddy, Book Character Bill Holm (as he’s known), is hilariously funny and rounds out Feather Brained nicely. I give it 4 paws!
If you’re in the mood for a book about a different specie, try this one –
The Good Good Pig by Sy Montgomery: When Montgomery adopts Christopher Hogwood, he’s such a tiny runt that he’s not expected to live long. But the pig not only survives, he thrives, and grows up to be locally famous as an escape artist with charm to spare. People come from far and wide just to visit the critter whose porcine personality is as big as his out-sized girth. If you’ve never read a book about pigs, this is the one to start with! I give it 4 paws!
Here’s a good one about a man and his cats –
Close Encounters of the Furred Kind by Tom Cox: Close Encounters is the hilarious follow-up to Cox’s The Good, The Bad, and the Furry (which is also a great book!). Cox is a deft writer with a terrific grasp of the ironic, and gets the details of his four (or is it five?) cats just right. The two funniest characters in Close Encounters are big-mouth cat Ralph, who spends his days loudly ralphing (as Cox phrases it) his own name (“Raaa-aaalph!”) as if he’s announcing to the world just how wonderful he is, and Cox’s father, who never speaks BELOW A SHOUT. Cox loves his cats as much as I love mine, and what especially endeared him to me was the fact that, when in the process of searching for a new home, he took his cats’ happiness into account when determining location and garden size. I actually did the same thing when I searched for Critter Cottage. I give both of Cox’s books 4 paws and a saucer of milk!
That’s a good start for your winter reading, but obviously, my list is not exhaustive by any means – there are a lot of great animal books by great writers, and just because I haven’t mentioned them here doesn’t mean they aren’t worth a read. Indeed, if you find a particularly good one, let me know about it! Until next time, please be kind to all the critters!