We’re really good at talking about material things but we’re really bad at talking about emotion,” said David Brooks, op-ed columnist for the New York Times, in a 2011 TED Talk. As we become ever more enamored of the electronic gizmos that can shield us from human interaction, this notion may help explain the ongoing phenomenon of Grumpy Cat—a sardonic Internet meme turned misanthropic advice giver (The Grumpy Guide to Life, from Chronicle, hit bookstores in August)—and the slew of upcoming releases in which animals give voice to our feelings, featuring dogs that reveal their owners’ minds, cats that can turn despair into hope, grieving elephants, bodhisattva donkeys, and cockatoos in love.
HarperCollins’s The Great Grisby (Oct.) puts an academic spin on this void filling. Written by Oxford-educated psychoanalyst Mikita Brottman, it explores the bond between dogs and notable masters from arts, letters, and history (Picasso, Thomas Hardy, Prince Albert). It also delves into the author’s relationship with her French bulldog and sports a blurb from animal science doctor Temple Grandin, author (with Catherine Johnson) of Animals Make Us Human.
In a similar if less lofty vein, Secrets of a Pet Nanny by diplomat-turned-dog-sitter Eileen Riley (Elliot & Thompson, Nov.) mixes memoir with an exploration of her clients’ devotion to their canine companions. The book has a sly hook: even a dedicated dog lover will wonder what propels a successful careerist to give up her globe-trotting, corridors-of-power ways for a life among other people’s animals.
Felines turn up in Lyons Press’s The Good Luck Cat: How a Cat Saved a Family, and a Family Saved a Cat by Lissa Warren, and in Crown Archetype’s A Letter to My Cat: Notes to Our Best Friends by Lisa Erspamer (both Oct.). Unlike Grumpy Cat, the cat in Warren’s memoir has all the healing and enriching powers of Brottman and Riley’s stellar pooches. In Erspamer’s compendium, celebrities trumpet their love for cats in the vein of 2012’s A Letter to My Dog (Chronicle), which Erspamer created with Kimi Culp and Robin Layton, and which has sold close to 19,000 hardcover copies, according to outlets tracked by Nielsen BookScan.
For readers with a more exotic taste in pets, Ashland Creek is releasing a novel about a cockatoo that’s in love with its human owner: Love and Ordinary Creatures by Gwyn Hyman Rubio (Oct.), author of the 2001 Oprah’s Book Club pick Icy Sparks. Ballantine has another novel, Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult (Oct.), the story of a daughter’s search for a mother while studying grief in elephants; and for equinophiles, Saving Simon: How a Rescue Donkey Taught Me the Meaning of Compassion by Jon Katz.
“We’ve had a nice long history here with books that have animal elements,” says Ballantine senior v-p Jennifer Hershey. “Animals in fiction and nonfiction externalize the internal landscape, and amplify and illuminate our human interactions.” And although Hershey says she wouldn’t turn away a good dog or cat story, she expects more to come in the way of less-usual animals; the house has just acquired a title about monarch butterflies by Dan Fagin, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Toms River.
But dogs remain the animals of the season. Sourcebooks is following up Teresa J. Rhyne’s 2012 The Dog Lived (and So Will I) with her latest memoir, The Dogs Were Rescued (and So Was I) (Oct.). As her beloved beagle finally succumbs to illness, Rhyne saves two new beagles from pharma-lab doom. They rescue her in return—in this case, from grieving for their predecessor.
Mutual human-animal salvation may be a familiar theme, but clearly it continues to exercise appeal. Counterpoint offers Bespotted: My Family’s Love Affair with Thirty-Eight Dalmatians by Linda Gray Sexton (Sept.), in which each of the 38 spotted firehouse hounds plays a part in saving the author from some tribulation or other. In The Dog Stays in the Picture (Open Road Media), author Susan Morse makes the journey from busy parent to empty nester with the companionship of a high-strung greyhound. Skyhorse will release The Boy Who Talked to Dogs by Martin McKenna (Sept.), in which both human and canine protagonists are strays; and Mr. Wilson Makes It Home: How One Little Dog Brought Us Hope, Happiness and Closure (Feb. 2015), a subtitle that precludes the need for any summing up.
Also from Skyhorse comes Little Louie by Kathryn Finney (Oct.), one of several children’s titles this season that explore canine-human relationships. Justin Chanda, v-p and publisher of Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, says, “There’s always some ebb and flow with concepts or stories or ideas that are popular in adult, and will make their way to kids’, and vice versa.” And right now, perhaps not surprisingly, “dogs are having a moment.” S&S had so many dog books in the pipeline—five—that it ran a Dog Days of Summer promo to introduce them all. A September title, Me & Dog by Gene Weingarten and Eric Shansby, delves more deeply than the typical boy-loves-dog-loves-boy theme, into a gentle spiritualism. “Dogs are great stand-ins for kids in exploring issues,” Chanda says. “They’re emotive, they show love. Any good dog book, I’m going to buy—until somebody tells me we’ve got too many, or too few cat books.”
Another recurring motif in children’s books is a focus on endangered species. In November, National Geographic Children’s Books is bringing out two conservation series titles: Mission: Elephant Rescue by Ashley Brown Blewett and Mission: Polar Bear Rescue by Nancy Castaldo and Karen de Seve. These arrive on the heels of Scholastic’s newly published Hope for Winter: The True Story of a Remarkable Dolphin Friendship by Craig Hatkoff, coauthor of Owen & Mzee, and David Yates, CEO of the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.
Titles about the importance of survival are trending for adults, too. From Firefly, Tales from Gombe by wildlife photographers Anup Shah and Fiona Rogers (Sept.) presents a natural history of the wild chimpanzees of Gombe National Park in Tanzania, first brought to world attention by Louis Leakey and Jane Goodall.
And while we’ve spent decades defining the ways in which chimps look like us and act like us, frogs are more difficult to anthropomorphize. But another Firefly release, In Search of Lost Frogs: The Campaign to Rediscover the World’s Rarest Amphibians, by zoologist Robin Moore (Oct.), engages, nevertheless, with its account of the hunt for frogs that may already be extinct and its exploration of amphibian weirdness (by way of example: meet the Mesopotamian beaked toad).
One topic that should be high on the list of everyone’s concerns: the disappearance of the bees. Even wild bee species—heroes of pollination—benefit from positive interactions with mankind. Heyday’s California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists by Gordon W. Frankie et al. (Oct.) lays out a proactive course for supporting them with healthy gardening practices. It’s next-level bee rescue for amateur horticulturists.
A spate of animal photo books is set to hit shelves this autumn, running the gamut from the sublime to the adorable to the ridiculous. Although dog books proliferate in this area, too, they have stiffer competition here.
To wit: National Geographic’s 67 Reasons Why Cats Are Better Than Dogs by Jack Shepherd (Oct.), the editorial director of BuzzFeed who launched the site’s animal section two years ago. Firmly in the ridiculous camp, the book is a photographic scrapbook of cats doing things like counting on an abacus, beside their canine counterparts who are, of course, performing the same task poorly. Cat Lady Chic by Diane Lovejoy (Abrams, Sept.) purports to “turn the unflattering cliché of the ‘cat lady’ upside down”—which it does, resoundingly, with photos of iconic actresses like Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly posing with sleek feline companions.
Horse aficionados are a distinctly ardent breed of human, prone to viewing the objects of their affection as living works of art. Golden Horse by Artur Baboev and Aleksandr Klimuk (Abrams, Sept.) pays homage to the rare Akhal Teke breed, with 150 full-color portraits.
Aperture’s Amelia and the Animals by Robin Schwartz (Oct.) documents 12 years of orchestrated interaction between the fine-art photographer’s daughter, Amelia, and zoo and domestic specimens, including capuchin monkeys, alpacas, and hairless cats. It serves not only as a record of a child’s innate affection for animals but as a portrait, a la Richard Linklater’s film Boyhood, of the passage of time.
And then—more dogs. Seth Casteel’s Underwater Puppies (Little, Brown, Oct.) is a companion to the author’s Underwater Dogs, which has sold upwards of 100K copies in hardcover since its 2012 release, according to Nielsen BookScan. Along the same lines is Shake Puppies by Carli Davidson (Harper Design, Oct.), a junior version of the author-photographer’s 30K-selling hardcover Shake; both depict canines mid-shudder, in all their ear-flapping glory.
The Little Book of Corgi Charm by Trevor Davies (Spruce, Oct.) is banking on the widespread appeal of the Queen of England’s favorite breed. Dogs in Cars by Lara Jo Regan (Countryman Press, Oct.) is a collection of 100 photos—some of which have already gone viral online—of canines enjoying the unadulterated bliss of the open road. And Petcam by Chris Keeney (Princeton Architectural Press, Oct.) suggests attaching cameras to animal companions so that they may take photos of their own.
No season in dog books would be complete without a breed guide. Thunder Bay’s newly updated Dogs Unleashed by Tamsin Pickeral (Oct.) presents classic varieties from the Chihuahua to the St. Bernard, and introduces the mixes du jour, like labradooodles and cockapoos—complete with parental portraits. And animal trainer and photographer Barbara O’Brien puts a spin on the traditional form with Dogface (Viking Studio, Oct.), a title that showcases images of 100 breeds in all their emotive, expressive, near-human element.
Lela Nargi is a Brooklyn-based journalist and the author of several books, including The Honeybee Man (Random/Schwartz & Wade), illustrated by Kyrsten Brooker.