Bingo Square: Nonfiction books about human-animal relationships

Are you participating in Adult Summer Reading and stuck on this bingo square? We’ve got some suggestions for you! Links go to the catalog so you can see if the books are available now and request them if they’re not.

How to be a good creature : a memoir in thirteen animals by Sy Montgomery ; illustrated by Rebecca Green

Understanding someone who belongs to another species can be transformative. No one knows this better than author, naturalist, and adventurer Sy Montgomery. To research her books, Sy has traveled the world and encountered some of the planet’s rarest and most beautiful animals. From tarantulas to tigers, Sy’s life continually intersects with and is informed by the creatures she meets.

This restorative memoir reflects on the personalities and quirks of thirteen animals–Sy’s friends–and the truths revealed by their grace. It also explores vast themes: the otherness and sameness of people and animals; the various ways we learn to love and become empathetic; how we find our passion; how we create our families; coping with loss and despair; gratitude; forgiveness; and most of all, how to be a good creature in the world.

When Harry met Minnie : a true story of love and friendship by Martha Teichner

There are true fairy tales. Stories that exist because impossible-to-explain coincidences change everything. Except in real life, not all of them have conventional, happily-ever-after endings. When Harry Met Minnie is that kind of fairy tale, with the vibrant, romantic New York City backdrop of its namesake, the movie When Harry Met Sally, and the bittersweet wisdom of Tuesdays with Morrie.

There’s a special camaraderie among early-morning dog walkers. Gathering at dog runs in the park, or strolling through the farmer’s market at Union Square before the bustling crowd appears, fellow pet owners become familiar-as do the personalities of their beloved animals. In this special space and time, a chance encounter with an old acquaintance changed Martha Teichner’s world. As fate would have it, her friend knew someone who was dying of cancer, from exposure to toxins after 9/11, and desperate to find a home for her dog, Harry. He was a Bull Terrier–the same breed as Martha’s dear Minnie. Would Martha consider giving Harry a safe, loving new home?

In short order, boy dog meets girl dog, the fairy tale part of this story. But there is so much more to this book. After Martha agrees to meet Harry and his owner Carol, what begins as a transaction involving a dog becomes a deep and meaningful friendship between two women with complicated lives and a love of Bull Terriers in common. Through the heartbreak and grief of Carol’s illness, the bond that develops changed Martha’s life, Carol’s life, Minnie’s life, Harry’s life. As it changed Carol’s death as well.

In this rich and touching narrative, Martha considers the ways our stories are shaped by the people we meet, and the profound love we can find by opening our hearts to unexpected encounters.

Buddy : how a rooster made me a family man by Brian McGrory

Brian McGrory’s life changed drastically after the death of his beloved dog, Harry: he fell in love with Pam, Harry’s veterinarian. Though Brian’s only responsibility used to be his adored Harry, Pam came with accessories that could not have been more exotic to the city-loving bachelor: a home in suburbia, two young daughters, two dogs, two cats, two rabbits, and a portly, snow white, red-crowned-and-wattled step-rooster named Buddy. While Buddy loves the women of the house, he takes Brian’s presence as an affront, doing everything he can to drive out his rival. Initially resistant to elements of his new life and to the loud, aggressive rooster (who stares menacingly, pecks threateningly, and is constantly poised to attack), Brian eventually sees that Buddy shares the kind of extraordinary relationship with Pam and her two girls that he wants for himself. The rooster is what Brian needs to be – strong and content, devoted to what he has rather than what might be missing. As he learns how to live by living with animals, Buddy, Brian’s nemesis, becomes Buddy, Brian’s inspiration, in this inherently human story of love, acceptance, and change.

In the tradition of bestsellers like Marley and Me, Dewey, and The Tender Bar comes a heartwarming and wise tale of finding love in life’s second chapter – and how it means all the more when you have to fight for it.

Dog Songs : Thirty-five Dog Songs and One Essay by Mary Oliver

Beloved by her readers, special to the poet’s own heart, Mary Oliver’s dog poems offer a special window into her world. “Dog Songs “collects some of the most cherished poems together with new works, offering a portrait of Oliver’s relationship to the companions that have accompanied her daily walks, warmed her home, and inspired her work. To be illustrated with images of the dogs themselves, the subjects will come to colorful life here.

These are poems of love and laughter, heartbreak and grief. In these pages we visit with old friends, including Oliver’s well-loved Percy, and meet still others. Throughout, the many dogs of Oliver’s life emerge as fellow travelers, but also as guides, spirits capable of opening our eyes to the lessons of the moment and the joys of nature and connection.
“Dog Songs “is a testament to the power and depth of the human-animal exchange, from an observer of extraordinary vision.

A shape in the dark : living and dying with brown bears by Bjorn Dihle

In A Shape in the Dark, wilderness guide and lifelong Alaskan Bjorn Dihle weaves personal experience with historical and contemporary accounts to explore the world of brown bears–from encounters with the Lewis and Clark Expedition, frightening attacks including the famed death of Timothy Treadwell, the controversies related to bear hunting, the animal’s place in native cultures, and the impacts on the species from habitat degradation and climate change. Much more than a report on human-bear interactions, this compelling story intimately explores our relationship with one of the world’s most powerful predators. An authentic and thoughtful work, it blends outdoor adventure, history, and elements of memoir to present a mesmerizing portrait of Alaska’s brown bears and grizzlies, informed by the species’ larger history and their fragile future.

No ordinary dog : my partner from the SEAL Teams to the Bin Laden raid by Will Chesney, with Joe Layden

Two dozen Navy SEALs descended on Osama bin Laden’s compound in May 2011. After the mission, only one name was made public: Cairo, a Belgian Malinois and military working dog. This is Cairo’s story, and that of his handler, Will Chesney, a member of SEAL Team Six whose life would be irrevocably tied to Cairo’s.

Starting in 2008, when Will was introduced to the DEVGRU canine program, he and Cairo worked side by side, depending on each other for survival on hundreds of critical operations in the war on terrorism. But their bond transcended their service. Then, in 2011, the call came: Pick up your dog and get back to Virginia. Now.

What followed were several weeks of training for a secret mission. It soon became clear that this was no ordinary operation. Cairo was among the first members of the U.S. military on the ground in Pakistan as part of Operation Neptune Spear, which resulted in the successful elimination of bin Laden.

As Cairo settled into a role as a reliable “spare dog,” Will went back to his job as a DEVGRU operator, until a grenade blast in 2013 left him with a brain injury and PTSD. Unable to participate in further missions, he suffered from crippling migraines, chronic pain, memory issues, and depression. Modern medicine provided only modest relief. Instead, it was up to Cairo to save Will’s life once more–and then up to Will to be there when Cairo needed him the most.

Wild ride home : love, loss, and a little white horse : a family memoir by Christine Hemp

Christine Hemp’s debut work of nonfiction, Wild Ride Home, is a brilliant memoir, looping themes of finding love and losing love, of going away and coming home, of the wretched course of Alzheimer’s, of cancer, of lost pregnancies, of fly fishing and horsemanship, of second chances, and, ultimately, of the triumph of love and family–all told within the framework of the training of a little white horse named Buddy. 

Wild Ride Home invites the reader into the close Hemp family, which believes beauty and humor outshine the most devastating circumstances. Such optimism is challenged when the author suffers a series of blows: a dangerous fiancé, her mother’s dementia, unexpected death and illness. Buddy, a feisty, unforgettable little Arabian horse with his own history to overcome, offers her a chance to look back on her own life and learn to trust again, not only others, but more importantly, herself. Hemp skillfully guides us through a memoir that is, despite devastating loss, above all, an ode to joy. 

Half broke : a memoir by Ginger Gaffney

At the start of this remarkable story of recovery, healing, and redemption, Ginger Gaffney answers a call to help retrain the troubled horses at an alternative prison ranch in New Mexico, a facility run entirely by the prisoners. The horses are scavenging through the dumpsters, kicking and running down the residents when they bring the trash out after meals. One horse is severely injured.

The horses and residents arrive at the ranch broken in one way or many: the horses are defensive and terrified, while the residents, some battling drug and alcohol addictions, are emotionally and physically shattered. With deep insight into how animals and humans communicate through posture, body language, and honesty of spirit, Gaffney walks us through her struggle to train the untrainable.

Gaffney peels away the layers of her own story—a solitary childhood, painful introversion, and a transformative connection with her first horse, a filly named Belle—and she, too, learns to trust people as much as she trusts horses. As her year-long odyssey builds toward a dramatic conclusion, the group experiences triumphs and failures, brave recoveries and relapses, as well as betrayals and moving stories of trust and belonging. 

Where the lost dogs go : a story of love, search, and the power of reunion by Susannah Charleson

One in six dogs go missing at some point in their lives, leaving bereft owners to search high and low, hang missing posters, check shelters, and hope for good news. But amid these grim statistics, countless happy endings are forged. Tails wag again. Best friends are reunited.
 
In Where the Lost Dogs Go, Susannah Charleson, author of Scent of the Missing and a trusted chronicler of the human/animal bond, dives headlong into the world of missing dogs. The mission to reunite lost pets with their families starts with Susannah’s own shelter rescue, Ace, a plucky Maltese mix with a mysterious past who narrowly survived months wandering lost. While Susannah formally studies animal behavior, lost-pet search tactics, social media strategies, and the psychology of loss, Ace also steps up for training. Cheerful and resourceful, Ace has revealed a nose for the scent of lost pets, and together they help neighbors and strangers in their searching.
 
In Where the Lost Dogs Go, readers take to the streets beside Susannah to bring home a host of missing pets. Along the way, Susannah finds a part of herself also lost. And when unexpected heartbreak shatters her own sense of direction, it is Ace—the shelter dog that started it all—who leads Susannah home. Inquisitive, instructive, heartrending, and hopeful, Where the Lost Dogs Go pays tribute to the missing dogs—and to the found—and to the restless space in between.

My life in a cat house : true tales of love, laughter, and living with five felines by Gwen Cooper

Gwen Cooper—author of the blockbuster international bestseller Homer’s Odyssey: A Fearless Feline Tale, or How I Learned About Love and Life With a Blind Wonder Cat—returns with the ongoing adventures of her much-beloved, world-famous fur family. Ideal for new readers and longtime fans alike, this collection of eight purr-fect cat stories is filled with all the humor and heart Gwen’s devoted readership has come to know and love.

An adorable, five-week-old rescue kitten slowly learns to trust the woman who saved her. An obsessive cat teaches himself to play fetch and demands it morning and night from his hapless mom—whether she’s working, sleeping, eating, bathing, or trying to enjoy some “alone time” with her husband. And Homer, the Blind Wonder Cat himself, returns triumphant in a new story about life and love after worldwide fame.

Read all eight stories in one sitting, or savor each gem of a “tail” on its own. My Life in a Cat House will leave you laughing out loud, shedding an occasional tear, and hugging your own cat a little bit closer.

The thing with feathers : the surprising lives of birds and what they reveal about being human by Noah Strycker

The Thing with Feathers explores the astonishing homing abilities of pigeons, the good deeds of fairy-wrens, the influential flocking abilities of starlings, the deft artistry of bowerbirds, the extraordinary memories of nutcrackers, the lifelong loves of albatross, and other mysteries—revealing why birds do what they do, and offering a glimpse into our own nature.

Noah Strycker is a birder and naturalist who has traveled the world in pursuit of his flighty subjects. Drawing deep from personal experience, cutting-edge science, and colorful history, he spins captivating stories about the birds in our midst and reveals the startlingly intimate coexistence of birds and humans.

Oogy : the dog only a family could love by Larry Levin

In 2002, Larry Levin and his twin sons, Dan and Noah, took their terminally ill cat to the Ardmore Animal Hospital outside Philadelphia to have the beloved pet put to sleep. What would begin as a terrible day suddenly got brighter as the ugliest dog they had ever seen–one who was missing an ear and had half his face covered in scar tissue–ran up to them and captured their hearts. The dog had been used as bait for fighting dogs when he was just a few months old. He had been thrown in a cage and left to die until the police rescued him and the staff at Ardmore Animal Hospital saved his life. The Levins, whose sons are themselves adopted, were unable to resist Oogy’s charms, and decided to take him home.

Heartwarming and redemptive, Oogy is the story of the people who were determined to rescue this dog against all odds, and of the family who took him home, named him “Oogy” (an affectionate derivative of ugly), and made him one of their own.

H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald

Obsession, madness, memory, myth, and history combine to achieve a distinctive blend of nature writing and memoir from an outstanding literary innovator.

When Helen Macdonald’s father died suddenly on a London street, she was devastated. An experienced falconer—Helen had been captivated by hawks since childhood—she’d never before been tempted to train one of the most vicious predators, the goshawk. But in her grief, she saw that the goshawk’s fierce and feral temperament mirrored her own. Resolving to purchase and raise the deadly creature as a means to cope with her loss, she adopted Mabel, and turned to the guidance of The Once and Future King author T.H. White’s chronicle The Goshawk to begin her challenging endeavor. Projecting herself “in the hawk’s wild mind to tame her” tested the limits of Macdonald’s humanity and changed her life.

Heart-wrenching and humorous, this book is an unflinching account of bereavement and a unique look at the magnetism of an extraordinary beast, with a parallel examination of a legendary writer’s eccentric falconry. Obsession, madness, memory, myth, and history combine to achieve a distinctive blend of nature writing and memoir from an outstanding literary innovator.

Grayson by Lynne Cox

Grayson is Lynne Cox’s first book since Swimming to Antarctica. In it she tells the story of a miraculous ocean encounter that happened to her when she was seventeen and in training for a big swim (she had already swum the English Channel, twice, and the Catalina Channel).

It was the dark of early morning; Lynne was in 55-degree water as smooth as black ice, two hundred yards offshore, outside the wave break. She was swimming her last half-mile back to the pier before heading home for breakfast when she became aware that something was swimming with her. The ocean was charged with energy as if a squall was moving in; thousands of baby anchovy darted through the water like lit sparklers, trying to evade something larger. Whatever it was, it felt large enough to be a white shark coursing beneath her body.

It wasn’t a shark. It became clear that it was a baby gray whale—following alongside Lynne for a mile or so. Lynne had been swimming for more than an hour; she needed to get out of the water to rest, but she realized that if she did, the young calf would follow her onto shore and die from collapsed lungs.

The baby whale—eighteen feet long!—was migrating on a three-month trek to its feeding grounds in the Bering Sea, an eight-thousand-mile journey. It would have to be carried on its mother’s back for much of that distance, and was dependent on its mother’s milk for food—baby whales drink up to fifty gallons of milk a day. If Lynne didn’t find the mother whale, the baby would suffer from dehydration and starve to death.

Something so enormous—the mother whale was fifty feet long—suddenly seemed very small in the vast Pacific Ocean. How could Lynne possibly find her?

This is the story—part mystery, part magical tale—of what happened . . .

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