This is a list of four of my favourite books about animals – okay one of them isn’t a book, but it’s a fascinating read nevertheless.
They are individual and idiosyncratic responses, each a different type of journey: a literary and cultural adventure; an experiment in other ways of being; a therapeutic examination of self; and a scientific exploration of the deep.
Personally, I think it’s incredible how little we know about these creatures and what these biologists are beginning to piece together.
For example, rather than previous assumptions of the giant squid as a sluggish mover, the footage taken by Kubodera and Mori suggest a much more active and aggressive predator – terrifying, but amazing!
Foster is a brilliant writer and the book is littered with some of the most beautifully observed nature writing I have read. A particular favourite line was: ‘when there is sun, the bottom of the river is a mosaic of smashed faces, all cackling at each other in a cubist hell.’, winner of the Samuel Johnson (now Baillie Gifford) Prize for non-fiction.
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An experienced falconer, Macdonald recounts the experience of ‘manning’ a Goshawk in the wake of the death of her father.
Jnanadanandini Devi’s independent streak which broke the shackles of patriarchy and left her indelible mark on the life-style of Bengali women, Swarnakumari’s breaking into the literary bastion of menfolk, Digambaridevi’s refusal to accept her husband’s tryst with alcohol, the indomitable Jogmayadevi who stands up for her rights and splits the Tagore family in two halves and the gentle , melancholic, affectionate Kadambari Devi, Rabindrantah Tagore’s very own muse and inspiration and ultimately Mrinalini Devi, his wife, his partner who loved him with all the simplicity and unquestioning faith in her heart.
It is absolutely riveting how the story takes us through labyrinth’s of power corridors inside the eminent household where relationships are formed and hearts are broken, where talent gets wings and emotions are stifled, where dreams upsurge and hopes die, a dismal death.
Reading these works will help you grasp at the connections we share with other forms of life, and acknowledge what separates us. The book is a meditation on Melville’s famous tale of the maniacal monopode mariner, used as a means of exploring our knowledge of and relationship with whales.
In a sense, it is Hoare’s own obsession with cetaceans that drives the book, chasing them through human history and literature.