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Any bookshelf but the black one
IT SEEMS Jane’s cat Sal-vador has knocked out a few of her animal books to sleep on the black bookshelf – the cat must like animal books.

VIOLA - Head down, Dane said to me, “I have a book problem.” I’ve never seen Dane without a book so I was curious as to what he meant. He explained that none of the three books he had lined up to read were grabbing his attention. I know the feeling, and it’s painful.

I encouraged him to take a look at the books on my shelves. 

“Not the animal shelf,” I conceded, knowing he found most of my animal books trivial. “The other ones.” 

The black recycled bookshelf in my living room is stuffed with books about animals. The other shelves are full of non-animal fiction and nonfiction books.

During the past few years, I’ve worked on culling my bookshelves. My criteria are simple: Will I ever read it again, or will I want to share it with someone? If not, the books go to my neighbor for her school’s library.

Every winter, I pore over the shelves, dust each book and hold it in my hand, and either slip it back on the shelf or place it on the goodbye pile. Having already finished this seasonal task, I knew Dane would find plenty of books until his next trip to his favorite bookstore. Just not on that animal shelf!

For those of you who do enjoy a good animal story, I’ll recommend a few I’ve enjoyed. 

Two of my favorite animal books were written by the same author, Sy Montgomery: ‘The Good Pig: The Extraordinary Life of Christopher Hogwood’ and ‘The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness.’The two books are as different as a pig and an octopus are.

Christopher is a pet pig who lives with Sy and her husband. But Christopher also becomes a community pig. On Pig Spa days the neighborhood children meticulously groom Christopher from snout to tail. Area families save their leftovers in what becomes known as Christopher’s slop bucket. And when Christopher sometimes escapes his yard, the local police bring him home in the back seat of their squad car. I laughed and cried my way through this easy read three times and have bought numerous copies to give as gifts. It’s earned a forever home on my animal shelf.

‘The Soul of the Octopus’is an engaging book about four octopuses that Sy gets to know up close. Written from Sy’s years of scientific research and observations, but also from her heart, it’s a lively and educational love story about the octopuses’ physical and emotional world. I think even Dane would enjoy this book, but I’ll never be able to convince him to give it a try.

‘Hit by a Farm,’by Catherine Friend, is the only sheep book I own. Catherine is a self-described bookworm and writer wannabe whose partner of 12 years dreams of owning a farm. Together they decided on sheep as the perfect farm animal, purchase land, and work at following their midlife dreams. What ensues will leave your belly sore from laughing, your eyes brimming with tears from hard-learned lessons, and a story that will stay with you.

My animal shelf has only one book on snails: ‘The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating’by Elisabeth Tova Bailey. I don’t feel a need for any others, nor do I ever want to send this restful book to the library. Elisabeth is bedridden with an illness and has a woodland snail to keep her company. Her astute observations of the snail (what else does she have to keep her occupied?) create a fascinating look into the natural world, with an introspective consideration of how nature helps us heal. Although this book isn’t for anyone wanting a fast, action-packed story, its slow, steady rhythm felt like a healing balm, and I stopped many times to hold the book in my lap while replaying a passage that spoke to me. 

For the best book on feathered friends, I had a hard time choosing between ‘Wesley the Owl’by Stacey O’Brien, and ‘Alex and Me’by Irene Pepperberg. Both books will stay on my black bookshelf, but I’m going with O’Brien’s book about Wesley. 

Stacey is a biologist who adopts Wesley, a barn owl with a broken wing, on Valentine’s Day 1985. They live together for 19 years as Stacey records Wesley's lifestyle and habits. I howled so loudly reading this book that I upset my dogs. Wesley, wanting to mate with O’Brien, dislikes O'Brien’s intimacy with her boyfriend. In a surprising turn of events, it’s actually Wesley who saves O’Brien. You won’t want to stop reading this book for work or even to eat. 

Dane is now well into the book he ended up choosing: ‘Home’by Marilynne Robinson. We both read her Pulitzer Prize-winning book ‘Gilead’and loved it. I haven't read ‘Home’yet since Dane started it first, but based on his reaction so far, I’m willing to bet ‘Home’ stays right next to ‘Gilead’on my red bookshelf. I’m also willing to bet Dane will never read a book from my animal shelf—but maybe you will!