Saturday, October 5, 2013

Books that bite and sting us: readings in animal oppression and sympathy

I just finished Charles Patterson’s 2002 Eternal Treblinka: Our Treatment of Animals and the Holocaust (more about it later, but I do recommend it).

The preface features a quote from Kafka:
I think we ought to read only books that bite and sting us. If the book we are reading doesn’t shake us awake like a blow to the skull, why bother reading it in the first place? So it can make us happy? Good God, we’d be just as happy if we had no books at all….A book must be the ax for the frozen sea within us.
This has a lot to recommend it, and in that spirit I’m compiling a far-from-comprehensive list of suggestions of worthwhile fiction about our relations with other animals (some of which I’ve recommended or discussed previously) to complement the nonfiction recommendations I provided recently:

• Karel Čapek, War With the Newts

• Ursula K. Le Guin, The Word for World is Forest

• J. M. Coetzee, The Lives of Animals

• Isaac Bashevis Singer, “The Slaughterer,” “The Letter Writer,” and others

• Clarice Lispector, The Passion According to G.H.

• Michel Tournier, The Ogre

• Franz Kafka, “Report to an Academy” and others

• Mark Twain, various

• Isabel Colegate, The Shooting Party

There’s also a new book I’ve heard about and plan to read soon:

• Karen Joy Fowler, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

Also, two books of analysis of fiction dealing with our relationships with other animals:

• Marc Lucht et al., Kafka’s Creatures: Animals, Hybrids, and Other Fantastic Beings

• Sherryl Vint, Animal Alterity: Science Fiction and the Question of the Animal*

* I haven’t read all of these selections in full, or in the case of these last two, at all (yet). The Mark Twain book is next on my list.

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