Riot Headline 10 Exciting Books to Read this Summer

3 Animal Memoirs to Make Your Heart Sing, Winny, and Woof

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Gretchen Lida

Staff Writer

Gretchen Lida is an essayist and an equestrian. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, Brevity, The Rumpus, The Washington Independent Review of Books, and many others. She teaches composition in Illinois, lives in Wisconsin, sometimes lives on Nantucket Island and is still a Colorado Native.

I am one of those people who likes to watch for birds. I am one of those who makes a happy face at strange dogs at the park and play fights with cats at house parties. I can name different cow breeds. I judge even the best actors by their heel position on the back of a horse. I know that if you always know you have a good fence if you can actually keep a goat inside it. I am an animal person, and I am always on the hunt for animal memoirs that celebrate our fellow creatures and teach me something new.

Fortunately for me, there are many. Books such as All Creatures Great and Small, The Soul of The Octopus, Chosen by a Horse, and many others fill my shelves. In addition, I recently finished three animal memoirs that are full of animals too, and here they are to add to your list.

Rough Magic: Riding the World’s Loneliest Horse Race by Lara Prior-Palmer

Part Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, part Walter Farley’s Black Stallion, Rough Magic is a great adventure memoir. Written by Lara Prior Palmer, this little book published by Catapult has been a runaway success. It is the story of how Lara Prior Palmer became the youngest person ever to win the Mongol Derby. The derby is well known among the equine community for its unruly horses and injuries that would make Nascar drivers blush.

Rough Magic is filled with semi-feral racehorses with personalities as changeable as the Mongolian weather and fellow riders from all over the world who are set of characters themselves. Prior-Palmer has a true gift for storytelling, and you can feel the hooves pound underneath each sentence.

Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube: Chasing Fear and Finding Home in the Great White North by Blair Braverman

Come for the Sled Dogs and stay for the nature. Inspired by musher and author Gary Paulsen, who once wrote on a day mushing that it was a “perfect 10 below,” Braverman left her life of warmth and privilege in California and moved to Norway, then later lived on a glacier in Alaska to give tourists rides on dogsleds.

This book is an adventure about dogs, the love of winter and reflections of what it means to be a woman in the male-dominated realm of adventure sports.

It is also important to note that it does talk about sexual violence—it is honest, transparent, and beautifully written. Once you finish this memoir, I also recommend following Braverman on Twitter. She just finished her first Iditarod and posted all of the dog pictures your heart could desire.


Birds Art Life: A Year of Observation by Kyo Maclear

Canadian Children’s book writer Kyo Maclear spent a year learning how to follow birds. She took lessons from a birder she calls “The Musician.” As she follows him around harbors and marshes and parks, the names and habits of the birds connect Maclear to the place she lives and the nature around. The birds themselves become a gateway to finding little truths in a variety of subjects, including art, the state of the world, and understanding the place that she lives.

As she muses on this, she also contemplates other migrations, including those of her Japanese mother and her Anglo-Canadian Father. Somehow birds, show us her relationship with both of her parents, but also their relationship with each other. This book is also filled with excellent illustrations.

Want more than just animal memoirs? We have 100 of the best memoirs here.