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Commentary: Enough with the dead animal books!

A snowy owl
A snowy owl
Johan J.Ingles-Le Nobel via Flickr Creative Commons

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Remember "Ring of Bright Water"? Did you read "H is for Hawk"? Those memoirs that talk about the wisdom and love animals shared with the authors? Milton Love, a regular Off-Ramp commentator and UC Santa Barbara marine biologist, has had it with all of them.

Because I am a biologist people often ask me if I have read the latest human-meets-animal book. Hell no.

You know the type, books like "Hooty: the Owl Who Couldn’t Fly," "Gretchen: the Bed Bug with an Attitude," or "Charlene: the Anaconda in My Bidet."

I have not read any of these books.

They're all basically the same. The author picks up some random animal, the more random the better, takes it home, and starts taking copious notes.

For the animals don’t just live in the house – no. Through their mischievous and endearing behaviors, Hooty or Gretchen or Charlene preternaturally enrich these authors’ lives, teaching their owners the kind of wisdom that in the past could only be gained by wearing hair-lined jockey shorts and perching on a cactus in the desert.

Seriously, most of these books are so heart-warming that by page 59 your ticker melts right through its pericardial sac and singes your pancreas.

Never after reading one of these tomes do you say to yourself, “Gee, I’m really glad I don’t have an anaconda living in my bidet.”

No! What you really say is “Hey Madge, you know what we really need? I know, after some weather stripping around the back door. Yep, what we really need is an anaconda in the bidet, because anacondas are so… very wise.”

So why don’t I read these books? It’s because the animal always dies at the end. Yep, the story arcs are always: wild animal falls in with author; animal’s behavior teaches author many life lessons; animal croaks; book ends.

It’s like only through its death will we understand what the animal is trying to relate to us.

And while we are on the subject, doesn’t this remind you of that other book genre: Wisdom That Only Random Truly Old People Can Teach Us?

Here the pattern is basically the same and let’s look at the structure of a future blockbuster: Old Charlie, retired postal worker, has hemorrhoids; old Charlie goes to a proctologist every week; while being examined old Charlie utters words of wisdom that would make Confucius rend his garments; proctologist takes copious notes; old Charlie dies; proctologist gets three-book deal with first book, titled Nothing is Left Behind, optioned by Martin Scorsese.  

Hm. In thinking about it, I just might read that book if it ended with: “And, today, if you come over to Charlie’s house, why there he will be, perched on his bidet, trading words of wisdom with Charlene the Anaconda.”