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Category: animals

Festival of Books: Humane Society's Wayne Pacelle on our complex relationship with animals

Some of us treat dogs and cats like members of the family but eat eggs from chickens that live in square inches of space. That moral contradiction is at the heart of Wayne Pacelle's book "The Bond: Our Kinship With Animals, Our Call to Defend Them." Pacelle, president and chief executive of the Humane Society of the United States, talked with L.A. Times editorial writer Carla Hall at the Festival of Books on Sunday.

Pacelle spoke about the powerful bonds we have with animals as well as the "normalized cruelty" they experience. His kinship with animals started early -- about the age of 2 -- and has continued throughout his life, including his conversion to veganism in college.

"I knew they were different," he said of his early impressions of animals, "but in good ways; I thought they were fascinating and wonderful and beautiful."

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Kafka meets kittens? 2011 will bring 'The Meowmorphosis'


What if Gregor Samsa woke up to find he was not a cockroach -- not "horrible vermin," as Franz Kafka wrote in "The Metamorphosis," but a super-cute kitten?

He will, in "The Meowmorphosis," coming in May 2011 from Quirk Books.

Quirk is, of course, the publisher that sparked literary mash-up madness with "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies." Back in April 2009, the idea was wholly unique, a surprising recycling of classic literary works available in the public domain.

Since the original hit the bestseller list, Quirk has published a steady stream of literary mash-ups: "Android Karenina," "Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters" and "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls." In March, it will release part three of the Pride-Prejudice-Zombies series, "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dreadfully Ever After," with a zombifying Mr. Darcy on the cover (horrors! not Darcy!)

Other publishers, including Grand Central Publishing, have gotten in on the mash-up action. Seth Grahame-Smith, who penned the zombie part of "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies," wrote "Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter" for Grand Central, giving American history a supernatural twist. Both it and "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" are said to be headed to the big screen.

But -- Kafka? "Gregor Samsa is a humble young man who supports his unemployed parents and teenage sister by working as a traveling fabric salesman," the publisher's catalog promises. It continues:

But his life goes strangely wrong in the very first sentence of 'The Meowmorphosis', when he wakes up late for work and discovers that he has inexplicably became an adorable kitten. His family must admit that yes, their son is now OMG so cute -- but what good is cute when there are bills to pay? How can Gregor be so selfish as to devote his attention to a ball of yarn? And how dare he jump out the bedroom window to wander through Kafka's literary landscape? Never before has a cat's tale been so poignant, strange and horrifyingly funny.

Will his father throw apples at Gregor the kitten? Will cute kitten Gregor meet as tragic an end as Gregor the creepy cockroach did in Kafka's "The Metamorphosis"? "The Meowmorphosis" promises the answers.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Image: LOL cat via I Can Haz Cheezeburger


Eric Bana, Vampire Hunter?

Seth Grahame-Smith puts the undead into Jane Austen's classic

Tolstoy for dabblers

Rene Lynch on 'Oogy,' a dog so ugly he'll run off with your heart

Oogy_levin When this book landed on my desk last month I quickly glanced at the cover, scanned the back and shoved it beneath a pile of papers. The subject matter just seemed too disturbing, and struck too close to home: I'm still grieving the recent death of my 15-year-old shepherd mix, Buster, a happy-go-lucky dog that I adopted as a puppy after he was found abused and abandoned in East L.A., strung to a fence by a wire.

"Oogy" is the true story of a puppy who was used as "bait" for fighting dogs when he was just a few weeks old, and was so badly mauled and disfigured that he was nearly put down when he was discovered abandoned outside Philadelphia. But the staff at the Ardmore Animal Hospital, which sees this kind of thing all too often, immediately noticed something special about the white dog whose left ear had been torn off, his jaw smashed, the side of his head torn open. Despite everything that had happened to him, he showed absolutely no malice to other dogs or hospital employees. Instead, he eagerly dispensed licks and wag, offering thanks to his rescuers in the only way he knew how. Against all odds -- or common sense, it would seem -- the animal hospital spent hours operating on the dog and fostering him through his recovery. When they were certain he did not pose a threat, the one-eared pup with the lopsided face was given a second chance, and adopted out to the Levin family.

I'm glad I also gave this book a second try, and I suggest it for someone who might be facing Christmas without a beloved pet.

The book is written by Larry Levin, an attorney who, along with his attorney wife, were on the treadmill of attorney life when they received a call that would forever change their lives: It was the "stork," delivering the news that the couple had been approved to adopt two newborn boys, twins they would later name Dan and Noah. With parenthood comes introspection for Levin about what it means to be a father, and what it means to be a family.

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An early look at 'Water for Elephants'

Sara Gruen's bestselling "Water for Elephants," a love triangle set in a 1930s circus, is coming to the big screen. Although it's not due in theaters until mid-April, the trailer is already out. Though there's nothing wrong with watching it on a computer, it looks really fantastic projected in a movie theater (at least it did at the ArcLight, where I saw it this past weekend).

The film stars Reese Witherspoon as a circus starlet, Robert Pattinson (famous for appearing in another literary adaptation) as the young veterinarian taken by her, and Christoph Waltz as her husband. Waltz won the best supporting actor Oscar for his role in "Inglorious Basterds," and Witherspoon got a best actress Oscar for 2005's "Walk the Line," so there's a good chance their performances will be strong. Some people aren't as sure about Pattinson, whose appearance in the trailer is almost completely devoid of dialog. "It's nearly impossible to judge from the trailer if Pattinson has any acting skills beyond that longing gaze thing," writes our blog 24 Frames.

"Water for Elephants" was Gruen's first historical novel. "I did all the research ahead of time," she told Powell's Books in an interview. "I needed to feel that I knew the subject matter in and out." She did research into circuses, into various cultural sidelines of the 1930s, and into elephants themselves:

I got into the habit of walking up to elephant handlers at the circus and saying, "Hi. I'm writing a book. May I meet your elephant?" I got lucky twice.

The first time was right after I'd been out with this elephant handler at the Kansas City Zoo who had been gored by an elephant. He took a tusk through the thigh, one through the rib cage, which just missed everything vital, and another through his upper arm. So I still had that in mind. I was standing beside this huge thing with his amber eye staring down at me. The guy said, "Go ahead. You can touch her." I was shaking, but I touched her. I said, "Okay, I'm done now."

Several months later, I met the second one. It was one of these little circuses that throws a tent up and says, "Free tickets!" And then it's twenty-dollar popcorn. I snuck out of the big top because it was small and pretty cheesy, but during the show I asked to meet the elephant; the handler gave me a bucket of peanuts and stuck me in an enclosure with this thing. He shut the gate. I was alone with this African elephant. I was looking at her, and she was looking at me like, This is not part of the usual repertoire. So I fed her the peanuts. By the end of it, she was such a love bug. I was hugging her and kissing her, posing for photos. She gave me a kiss, a big, sock puppet, mushy elephant kiss with the end of her trunk. It was really memorable.

Appearing in the film as the current-era, older version of Pattinson is the always-watchable Hal Holbrook. "I like to write flawed characters. I take a warts-and-all approach to everyone," Gruen said. "People, for some reason, are more forgiving of my older, warty characters, but my 30- and 40-year-old characters are just as warty if you look at them closely."

Gruen's latest novel, "Ape House," came out in September. 

-- Carolyn Kellogg



Simon's Cat trims the tree

British animator-director Simon Tofield is celebrating the holidays with a new Simon's Cat film, "Santa Claws." In the United States, the book "Simon's Cat" came out last year. "His understanding of feline psychology enables Tofield to make Simon's Cat the kitty everyone likes to think he has, just as Snoopy was the dog people imagined they owned before he too became too human," Charles Solomon wrote in our pages.

In Britain, a second book was published in October; "Simon's Cat: Beyond the Fence," will hit U.S. bookstores in spring 2011.

-- Carolyn Kellogg


Do dogs go to heaven? Pondering 'The Divine Life of Animals'


Dogs are man's best friend, right? A recent example of this saying occurred in the season finale of the ABC hit drama "Lost," when Vincent, a Labrador retriever, sits down quietly next to the show's hero, Jack, as he is dying. Many fans, however, were bewildered when the loyal pooch didn't appear in the last scene as the entire cast gathers in a church before heading to an eternal hereafter. Perhaps Vincent wasn't there because dogs don't go to heaven? Does anything happen to them (aside from decomposition!) after they die? Perhaps they are reincarnated several times before finding their true purpose (that's what happens in W. Bruce Cameron's novel "A Dog's Purpose," which made a recent appearance on the L.A. Times extended bestsellers list)?

These are questions that Ptolemy Tompkins ponders in "The Divine Life of Animals: One Man’s Quest to Discover Whether the Souls of Animals Live On." Tompkins, son of writer Peter Tompkins ("The Secret Life of Plants"), blends real-life stories of bereaved owners' afterlife experiences wtih beloved pets and extensive research into history and primitive religions to consider some possible answers.

Jacket Copy: In the book, you discuss several incidents that got you thinking about the afterlife of animals, including the death of Angus, a pet dwarf bunny, and Penny, a malnourished dog you met in the Yucatan when you were 12. Was there a specific event that was the source of your inspiration?

Ptolemy Tompkins: I have always been interested in what survives of an animal. Very often the first encounter humans have with death is as a kid when we pick up a wild animal, a wounded baby bird that fell out of a nest or an animal injured on the road. We normally don't see it this close up and focus on its aliveness. We try to take care of it, and then it dies. You had a connection to it and now it's dead. Kids will inevitably wonder and ask: Where did it go?

It's a very small, mundane event that has universal enormity attached to it. A kid looking at this body in a small cardboard shoebox. The complete smallness and humility of the event and the gigantic value attached to it resonated with me. Really big things can come to us in life often in funny little disguises. I had these experiences again and again.

JC: In your research was there ever a moment of epiphany?

PT: When I had the idea of starting a book on this subject I recalled a letter I received when I was an editor at Guideposts and did a piece on pets in heaven. This antiques dealer from upstate New York was taking a walk and came across a dying rabbit and just couldn't walk on. So he sat down with it in the woods and kept it company until it died. I'm not sure why, but I saved that letter because it brought up the question about the proper relationship we should strike with animals. What is is? There's no way to live on Earth without taking the life of other animals. What is their physical existence about? There is something important in the way we look at animals. That's what this man did. He stopped, sat next to the rabbit and acknowledged what it was: a spiritual being.

JC: Was there one religious belief that best supports your theory of the souls of animals living on?

PT: To keep the book simple, I tried to keep things fairly close to the basic principles. It all goes back to primitive religion. There is a basic spiritual perspective that can be found everywhere in the world even  before recorded history began: This basic tenet is that all embodied beings are spiritual by nature and all are related. Every living being, every tree, every animal is an embodied spiritual being. It's a perspective you find in every religion.

JC: What can you say to detractors who think it’s a bunch of nonsense?

-- Tompkins' answer and more after the jump --

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When you need to know why fish fart

francesca gouldwhy fish fart


OK, chances are no one ever needs to know why fish fart. But those interested in such odd factoids -- who might gleefully explain that the bubbles coming from the backside of a cod are not technically farts but those near a herring's are -- will find Francesca Gould's new book "Why Fish Fart & Other Useless or Gross Information About the World" is just what they've been waiting for.

Chock-full of anecdotes, the book is divided into not-your-usual-table-talk chapters: "obscene cuisine," "weird creatures," "vile bodies," "pernicious practices," "disgusting diseases, curious cures, and savage tortures." Not all the blurbs are entirely revelatory -- you've probably heard that Aztecs practiced human sacrifice and that jackals regurgitate to feed their young. But many are strange enough to keep the curious paging through for the next curiosity.  Here's a super-truncated version:

Q: What is the world's tastiest insect?
A: This is a matter of taste, but the author recommends the Australian Honey ant, which "stores so much of a sugary fluid in its body that its hind end swells up into a ball that is big enough to eat. ... They say it's just like eating honey, only crunchier."

Q: Can it really rain frogs and fish?
A: Yes.

Q: Could cat ear mites live in a human ear?
A: Yes, and eww, a doctor experimented on himself.

Q: How clean is your toothbrush?
A: Don't ask.

Gould, whose first book was "Why You Shouldn't Eat Your Boogers and Other Useless (or Gross) Information About Your Body," has a knack for making the gross, um, digestible reading. It's a fun little book, if not for everyone.

As for those farting herrings? The escaping air emits a high-pitched sound that scientists think is used to communicate with other herrings at night. No other fish can detect the noise of their emissions: The herring farts are silent (if not deadly) .

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

Hog heaven: Michael Perry's 'Coop'

CoopmemoirMichael Perry


Michael Perry lives in rural Wisconsin on a farm with his wife, two daughters, a vintage truck and an assortment of animals, which he writes about in "Coop: A Year of Poultry, Pigs and Parenting." He explains in an interview with Powell's that he's not running a big professional farming operation.

I think we're doing what a lot of folks are — getting a few chickens, getting a few pigs, just trying to raise more and more of our own food. And we're not at the cutting edge of this; you look at people like Barbara Kingsolver, Michael Pollan — these are the people who are really leading us.... I'm sort of writing about the rest of us, who are trying to figure out a way to incorporate these things into our day-to-day lives while probably, truth be told, paying the rent mostly through other efforts.

But what's encouraging is that I'm seeing more and more of it. This idea that you have to be just a farmer or just a writer is kind of a new thing. If you look back a few decades, the plumber used to have a few chickens in the back yard. It's not about becoming a farmer; it's about incorporating those things into the rest of your life.

Powell's asks with some horror about pigs -- apparently they'll eat humans, if it appears that humans are  what's for lunch. "Yes, they're omnivorous, and that includes you," Perry says. "It's nothing personal; the pig's just hungry. And to be fair to the pig, I don't know why we're shocked about them eating us when many of us quite happily eat them."

Tending pigs and chickens is pretty time-consuming, which doesn't always jive with a writer's schedule. Perry, who can write for 16 hours at a stretch, also volunteers as a local emergency responder and plays in a band. And this spring he'll be busier than usual, as his long list of appearances will take him across Wisconsin and the Pacific Northwest -- leaving his wife holding the feedbag.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: The Pug Father via Flickr

Books and dogs: a happy tail



In November, we posted a series of pictures that showed that books and cats, happy together, which some of you found charming. But not all -- one person called it "porn for freaky cat-loving literature fiends." Well, it's about time for some doggie payback. As you can see, books and dogs go together just as well as books and cats. 

There are the self-help dogs ...



There are dogs who read Booker-nominated novels ...


more books and dogs after the jump.

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Books and cats: a love affair in photos


There are legions of people who love books, and who love cats, and have a habit of photographing them together. You may like books and not like cats; I know it's possible. But this post, my friends, is not for you. This post is for people who think that Pippen, above, is awfully cute when confronting the "Omnivore's Dilemma." As is Jamila, below.


The Bible seems to be putting Jamila to sleep. Of course, this can happen with any book, even "Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity." Looks like the cat, Ahchan, has gotten the "stress-free" part down.


Even the wham! bam! pow! of Marvel comics can't keep this store cat awake.


But tiny little Cayley is ready to tackle a very big book.


Happy bookish cats from the world over, plus photo credits, after the jump.

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