cover image On Animals

On Animals

Susan Orlean. Avid Reader, $27 (288p) ISBN 978-1-98218-153-6

New Yorker staff writer Orlean (The Library Book) delivers an entertaining and informative look at various animals in this clever collection of essays. According to Orlean, her “animalish” personality has driven her to track down critters her whole life, as well as stories of humans as animalish as she. In “Lady and the Tigers,” she profiles a tiger owner in Jackson, N.J., while “Little Wing” sees her documenting a teenager’s relationship to her carrier pigeons in Boston. The essays are well researched and showcase a keen journalistic eye, as in “Lion Whisperer,” which covers Kevin Richardson’s frolicsome relationship with lions, and “The Rabbit Outbreak,” which details the spread of a disease in rabbits across the globe. Orlean’s prose dazzles when she uses human metaphors to describe the natural world, conjuring up hilariously vivid images: Biff, a show dog, has “the earnest and slightly careworn expression of a smalltown mayor”; Keiko the whale, who starred in Free Willy, is “a middle-aged piebald virgin living as good a life as captivity could offer”; and carrier pigeons are “muttering to themselves like old men in a bingo hall.” While not all the essays land (some leave something to be desired in Orlean’s examination of the human-animal relationship), they’re nonetheless packed with spirit. Animal lovers will find much to savor. (Oct.)