Bookworm: Animal speak and tales of from another time

Terri Schlichenmeyer

“Animalkind: Remarkable Discoveries about Animals and Revolutionary New Ways to Show Them Compassion”

  • By Ingrid Newkirk and Gene Stone
  • c. 2020, Simon & Schuster
  • $27, $36 Canada; 294 pages

Your dog says he hates the new food you bought him. The ball, though, that’s perfect. He likes the squeak. He says he’d like it better if you could play tonight but he understands that you have stuff to do, so he’ll go lay on his bed, thanks for that.

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If he could read “Animalkind” by Ingrid Newkirk & Gene Stone, he’d have a lot more to say. But then again, you already knew that. Anybody who loves an animal knows that dogs don’t just bark and cows don’t just moo, but that each vocalization means something – whether it’s to you or to another creature.

“Animalkind: Remarkable Discoveries about Animals and Revolutionary New Ways to Show Them Compassion” by Ingrid Newkirk and Gene Stone.

Scientists and researchers learn more every day about the lives of animals, and not just the critters we live with, but the ones we live near, too: birds, for example, communicate in rich layers through vocalization that mimics human speech patterns. Furthermore, when tested, some birds perform better than monkeys at relatively complicated tasks.

Even in the barn, animals have more smarts than many humans will admit they have. Horses can learn to indicate a preference for a blanket, when given a choice between several. Mules are notorious for problem-solving in the barnyard. One farmer reported to researchers that a cow he owned gave birth to twins, then relinquished one and secretly hid the other, possibly because the farmer had removed a calf from her once before and she remembered, unwilling to lose both babies.

Newkirk and Stone write of octopuses that learn to outwit their captors, and of monogamous birds. They tell of baboon capers, swimming elephants, and of porcine cuddles. You’ll read tales of pigeon romance and why you should never want to approach a sweaty, smelly bull elephant. They tell tales of intelligence and sentience and love among animals.

And they tell us what we can do at home, at work, at school, shopping, cooking, and dressing to ensure that “the animals who share this planet with us” are given the respect and care they’re finally due …

The very first thing you need to know about “Animalkind” is that it’s not going to change anyone’s mind. Skeptics (read that: people without pets) will still scoff at the very idea that animals could be compared to humans. Folks with pets will find examples to the contrary. Nothing new on this front.

Speaking only to the latter, then, this book is a delight: authors Ingrid Newkirk and Gene Stone share story after story and scientific fact after laboratory study of animals who love, nurture, communicate, seek revenge, and play tricks on their humans. These tales are like snack food to an animal-lover: it’s impossible to stop wanting more; in fact, you may think this book isn’t thick enough. Also nice is that the last half here offers ways to match your hustle with your heart.

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Readers who think that an animal is just an animal, keep on walking. This book isn’t for you, but for animal-lovers and those who are ecology-minded, “Animalkind” is one you’ll enjoy.

Your dog would agree.

“Hitting a Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick”

  • By Zora Neale Hurston, edited with an introduction by Genevieve West, foreword by Tayari Jones
  • c. 2020, Amistad
  • $25.99, $31.99, Canada; 304 pages

Everybody has that place. You know, that place where everyone knows you; they know what you want, and they get it for you before your coat’s half off. It’s where you can catch up on gossip and good news, where you take shelter and get sympathy. In “Hitting a Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick” by Zora Neale Hurston, you also get a front seat.

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Born in around 1891 in Alabama, Zora Neale Hurston learned early to make her own way: she was just a teenager when her mother died, and when her father married a woman she hated, Hurston left home. After briefly working as a maid for a traveling actress, she moved to Baltimore where she graduated from high school, shaved a decade off her age, and enrolled at Howard University. There, her first story was printed.

“Hitting a Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick” by Zora Neale Hurston, edited with an introduction by Genevieve West, foreword by Tayari Jones.

Unable to secure money to graduate from Howard University, Hurston moved to New York in 1924, arriving in Harlem with near-empty pockets but a head full of stories that began winning awards for her. This led to more opportunities, a return to college, a network of other writers, and a publisher for her books.

In this book are 21 of Hurston’s short stories, including Harlem Renaissance works that were previously considered “lost.” Many were written in a way that reflects stereotypical patterns of speech and pronunciation which, says Genevieve West in her introduction, was risky and controversial but Hurston knew exactly what she was doing.

While some tales are set in Harlem, Hurston’s stories here start out in Eatonville, Florida, where everyone knew everyone else. It the place where John Redding lived before he died, floating in the same waters that he dreamed might show him the world. It’s where every man gathers at Jim’s restaurant to talk trash, and where Sam met Stella, who changed him into someone who never gambled and came home on time, mostly. Eatonville was where Spunk Banks got too brave, where Old Man Morgan could put down a curse on anyone; and where “white folks are very stupid about some things.”

Don’t be surprised if “Hitting a Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick” is quickly elevated to your local high school’s reading list. Yep, it’s that kind of book.

Read, and you’ll almost wish you were slumped on a wooden chair on Jim’s porch on a hot summer day. Read, because authenticity oozes from every page here and you can’t help but like the men and women in the tales. Read, as author Zora Neale Hurston’s wit shines between biting narratory descriptions and comments, like sunbeams sneaking through Jim’s raggedy roof, underscored by a mix of highbrow words and lowlife scoundrels.

You’ll also feel the heat sometimes but it’s not always from the weather.

One thing: modern readers may want to know that the “dialect” that Hurston insisted upon may take some getting used-to, but it ultimately adds to the realism that you’ll love about this book. For that, “Hitting a Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick” is right for any place.

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The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.