That Artsy Reader Girl hosts Top Ten Tuesday, a weekly themed blogging meme for book lovers. This week, the theme is Ten Animals From Books (mythical, real, main characters, companions, shifters, etc.), so I’ve chosen ten read books from my own shelves that feature at least one animal (listed alphabetically by author).
1. The Transformations of Lucius Otherwise Known As The Golden Ass by Apuleius (translated from Latin by Robert Graves)
- Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1951 (renewed 1979)
To be frank, I don’t remember anything about this book other than the main character gets turned into an ass. This was assigned reading in one of my college courses, and I have annotated/added sticky notes so I like to think I enjoyed the classroom discussions. I’ve held onto the book because I’m nostalgic, and because it’s one of the many books on my “maybe I’ll reread this one day” list.
The story is about Lucius Apuleius, a young man of good birth, who, while disporting himself in the cities and along the roads of Thessaly, encountered many diverting and strange adventures. Not the least of these was that Apuleius suffered the indignity of being turned into an ass after trying to steal a sorceress’s magic. How Apuleius supported his misfortune and how he contrived to dedicate himself to the one goddess who could help him resume his human form make up the body of this tale abounding in lusty incident, curious adventure, and bawdy wit.
2. In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods by Matt Bell
- Soho Press, Inc. 2013
Another book that was assigned in a college course, this long-titled novel is trippy, somehow both hard and easy to forget, and includes a few animals including a bear and an octopus.
In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods tells the story of a newly married couple who take up a lonely existence in the title’s mythical location. In this blank and barren plot, far from the world they’ve known, they mean to start a family. But every pregnancy fails, and as their grief swells, the husband—a hot-tempered and impatient fisherman and trapper—attempts to prove his dominion in other ways, emptying both the lake and the woods of their many beasts. As the years pass, the wife changed, too; her powerful voice sings new objects into being, including a threatening moon hung above their house, its doomed weight already slowly falling, bending the now-starless sky.
3. The Color Master by Aimee Bender
- Anchor Books, 2013
This short story collection blends realism, folklore, and fantasy, and many of the stories (such as “Tiger Mending”) feature animals in minor or major parts.
A traumatic event unfolds when a girl with hair the color of golden wheat appears in an apple orchard; a woman plays out a fantasy with her husband and finds she cannot go back to her old sex life; an ugly woman marries an ogre and struggles to decide if she should stay with him after he mistakenly eats their children; and two sisters travel deep into Malaysia, where one learns the art of mending tigers who have been ripped to shreds.
In each of The Color Master‘s fifteen remarkable stories, Aimee Bender holds a funhouse mirror up to reality, proving, once again, that she is one of hte most intelligent and imaginative writers of our time.
4. Ribsy by Beverly Cleary
- Dell Publishing, 1964
Just a great, realistic adventure tale centering around the antics of a family dog. A true Beverly Cleary gem.
Good ol’ Ribsy’s ever-curious mind has always gotten him into trouble, but this time he may have gone too far. After a comical turn of events, Ribsy finds himself in the wrong station wagon with the wrong children.
Ribsy will do anything to find Henry, but there’s plenty of excitement to be had along the way—and scoring a touchdown for a local high school team is only part of the fun!
5. Coraline by Neil Gaiman
- Scholastic, Inc. 2002
I think this is one of the most re-readable stories out there. It’s always creepy, always affecting, and one of the prominent side characters is a cat, so it fits this week’s theme.
When Coraline steps through a door to find another house strangely similar to her own (only better), things seem marvelous.
But there’s another mother there, and another father, and they want her to stay and be their little girl. They want to change her and never let her go.
Coraline will have to fight with all her wits and courage if she is to save herself and return to her ordinary life.
6. Grimm’s Complete Fairy Tales
- Nelson Doubleday, Inc. 1954 (this year is an educated guess)
I couldn’t leave this collection off this list, especially because I’ve explored the animal symbolism and realism at some lengths for Reading Grimm’s Complete Fairy Tales.
7. The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon by Stephen King
- Scribner, 1999
The prominent animal in this story may or may not exist, which makes this one of my favorite King novels; psychological is my favorite type of horror or suspense.
The brochure promised a “moderate-to-difficult” six-mile hike on the Maine-New Hampshire branch of the Appalachian Trail, where nine-year-old Trisha McFarland was to spend Saturday with her older brother, Pete, and her recently divorced mother. When she wanders off to escape their constant bickering, then tries to catch up by attempting to shortcut through the woods, Trisha strays deeper into a wilderness full of peril and terror. Especially when night falls.
Trisha has only her wits for navigation, only her ingenuity as a defense against the elements, only her courage and faith to withstand her mounting fear. For solace she tunes her Walkman to broadcasts of Boston Red Sox games and the gritty performances of her hero, number 36, relief pitcher Tom Gordon. And when her radio’s reception begins to fade, Trisha imagines that Tom Gordon is with her–her key to surviving an enemy known only by the slaughtered animals and mangled trees in its wake.
A classic story that engages our emotions at the most primal level, The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, explores our deep dread of the unknown and the extent to which faith can conquer it. It is a fairy tale grimmer than Grimm, but aglow with a girl’s indomitable spirit.
8. Little Eyes by Samanta Schweblin
- Riverhead Books, 2020
One of the best books/general things to come out of 2020 was Little Eyes. The animals in this book link people across the globe, which results in various consequences and effects. Read the book, please and thank you (and maybe check out my review).
They’ve infiltrated homes in Hong Kong, shops in Vancouver, the streets in Sierra Leone, town squares in Oaxaca, schools in Tel Aviv, bedrooms in Indiana. They’re everywhere. They’re here. They’re us. They’re not pets, or ghosts, or robots. They’re real people, but how can a person living in Berlin walk freely through the living room of someone in Sydney? How can someone in Bangkok have breakfast with your children in Buenos Aires, without your knowing? Especially when these people are completely anonymous, unknown, unfindable.
The characters in Samanta Schweblin’s brilliant new novel, Little Eyes, reveal the beauty of connection between far-flung souls—but yet they also expose the ugly side of our increasingly linked world. Trusting strangers can lead to unexpected love, playful encounters, and marvelous adventure, but what happens when it can also pave the way for unimaginable terror? This is a story that is already happening; it’s familiar and unsettling because it’s our present and we’re living it, we just don’t know it yet. In this prophecy of a story, Schweblin creates a dark and complex world that’s somehow so sensible, so recognizable, that once it’s entered, no one can ever leave.
9. Two Old Women by Velma Wallis
- Harper Perennial / Originally published by Epicenter Press, 1993
There’s so much wildlife in this legend; an absolute must-read (not just for the animals).
Based on an Athabascan Indian legend passed along for many generations from mothers to daughters of the upper Yukon River Valley in Alaska, this is the suspenseful, shocking, ultimately inspirational tale of two old women abandoned by their tribe during a brutal winter famine.
Though these women have been known to complain more than contribute, they now must either survive on their own or die trying. In simple but vivid detail, Velma Wallis depicts a landscape and way of life that are at once merciless and starkly beautiful. In her old women, she has created two heroines of steely determination whose story of betrayal, friendship, community, and forgiveness “speaks straight to the heart with clarity, sweetness, and wisdom” (Ursula K. Le Guin).
10. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
- Harper Trophy, 1980
This was the first book I grabbed to feature in this week’s Top Ten Tuesday. How joyful it was to have friends in these animal characters as a child.
This is the story of a little girl named Fern who loved a little pig named Wilbur—and of Wilbur’s dear friend Charlotte A. Cavatica, a beautiful large grey spider who lived with Wilbur in the barn. With the help of Templeton, the rat who never did anything for anybody unless there was something in it for him, and by a wonderfully clever plan of her own, Charlotte saved the life of Wilbur, who by this time had grown up to be quite a pig.
Which books come to mind when you think of animal characters or figures? Share in a comment below, and if you participated in Top Ten Tuesday this week, feel free to link your post below – I would love to check it out!