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“On Animals” by Susan Orlean

--Staff Picks

On Animals

Susan Orlean
Published: 2021

Susan Orlean (author of “The Orchid Thief” and “The Library Book”) has always been “animalish”, something people who have a relationship or interactions with animals will understand. In this collection of essays, Orlean covers a wide variety of animals and animal-human relationships, including: chickens, show dogs, tigers, mules, homing pigeons, animal actors, Keiko the killer whale, oxen, taxidermy, lions, rabbits, pandas, missing dogs, donkeys, and life on a hobby farm.

What sets this collection apart is the excellent quality of the writing and the variety of the essays. Orlean is not just writing about the particular animal, she’s depicting the animal in a specific setting and often time and place. The homing pigeons story, “Little Wing,” involves a teenager and her homing pigeons. Biff is the boxer who was a winning show dog. Kevin Richardson is known as the “lion whisperer.” Two essays involve the donkeys which seemed to be everywhere in Morocco, and the common sight of oxen in Cuba. She writes about the New Jersey woman who kept 23 tigers in her yard. Did you know that most rabbits have the ability to pretend that they’re healthy even when they’re quite sick? And Orlean details the work involved with raising chickens as well a caring for a large variety of animals. And this is just a small part of the topics covered.

There should be an essay within this collection that will appeal to almost everyone who is also “animalish”.