Summer Reading

Books about animals and some fiction too – the books on my to-read list this summer.

A summer reading list from Companion Animal Psychology. The list is illustrated by a photo of a squirrel on a deck chair reading a book
Photo: geertweggen / Shutterstock

By Zazie Todd, PhD

It’s a tradition here at Companion Animal Psychology to publish a summer reading list. Typically the list includes links to some favourite articles by other bloggers, as with last year’s list concentrating on sound advice on dogs and cats or 2015’s play edition.

But now each month’s newsletter highlights favourite posts (see August's newsletter here), I decided to do things differently this summer. I’ll be taking a bit of time off, and I thought I would share with you some of the books on my book pile waiting to be read.

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Books from the book club

Not surprisingly, the Companion Animal Psychology Book Club choices make up a significant proportion of my reading list.

This month, the book club is reading Marc Bekoff’s Canine Confidential: Why Dogs Do What They Do. You may remember that I interviewed Bekoff about the book back in April. As this is the book for August, I’m re-reading it alongside the book club. Early on in the book, Bekoff writes,
"This book seeks to answer the question of who dogs are, not what dogs are." 
The book is an interesting read about what we know about dogs, illustrated with many stories about the dogs Bekoff has known and of the people who write to share their stories with him. In the appendix, Bekoff explains how you can become an ethologist and what you will learn from observing dogs. This is an enjoyable book that will help you understand dogs better, with a strong emphasis on the welfare of our canine companions.

Pit Bull: The Battle over an American Icon by Bronwen Dickey is the book club’s choice for September. It looks at the complex history of pit bulls in America and what it tells us about our relationship with dogs. It’s a topical choice and the photos that accompany the text are fascinating (and, at times, disturbing). Dickey is an excellent writer and grabs your attention from the first pages. I can’t wait to dig in to this book.

Dickey spoke to NPR about the book here.

Rounding out the book club choices, The Dog: A Natural History by Ádám Miklósi will be the book for October. Covering the evolution, biology and behaviour of dogs, the book is beautifully illustrated with colour photographs and set out so you can dip into sections if you wish. It’s another book I’m looking forward to reading.

More non-fiction

I’m fascinated by crows and ravens, so when I saw there is a revised edition of Candace Savage’s Bird Brains: The Intelligence of Crows, Ravens, Magpies, and Jays, I ordered a copy. It is part coffee-table book and part scientific exploration of just how clever these birds are.

There’s a non-animal book on my non-fiction list too: On Color by David Kastan. With chapters arranged by colour, this looks at the scientific, cultural and literary ways in which colour shapes our lives. I was prompted to buy this after reading an extract on the etymology of orange which catalogues early descriptions of the colour, from Old English’s geoluhread (yellow-red) to Shakespeare’s use of the word alongside tawny, such as the blackbird with an “orange tawny bill” described by Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Only in the 17th century, when oranges appeared, did orange unequivocally become orange.

And some fiction choices too

I don’t get as much time for reading fiction as I would like, so I’m really looking forward to settling down with these books.

Have You Met Nora? by Nicole Blades starts three weeks before Nora’s wedding into a powerful New York family, but she has a secret that threatens to derail everything. A captivating story and a meditation on identity and race in North America, I’m only a few chapters in and the tension is building. You can watch an interview with Blades about the book on BT Montreal here.

Dazzle Patterns is the first novel by Canadian artist and author Alison Watt. Set against the backdrop of the Halifax explosion in December 1917, it tells the story of Clare, who loses an eye in the blast, and her desire to become an artist. The book takes its name from the dazzle patterns that were painted on the supply ships as a kind of camouflage. Watt told CBC Books about why she wrote the book here.

Convenience Store Woman by Sayako Murata, translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori, is also on my list. It tells the story of Keiko, a 36-year-old woman who never quite fits in and who has spent the last 18 years working in a convenience store. It’s a fun and witty read. The book is reviewed by The Guardian here.

Have you read any of these books? What did you think of them? And which titles do you suggest I add to my book pile?

See you in September!

Zazie Todd, PhD, is the award-winning author of Wag: The Science of Making Your Dog Happy and Purr: The Science of Making Your Cat Happy. She is the creator of the popular blog, Companion Animal Psychology, writes The Pawsitive Post premium newsletter, and also has a column at Psychology Today. Todd lives in Maple Ridge, BC, with her husband, one dog, and two cats. 

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