It's not rare to find books about animals on the shelves. Books like Marley & Me and A Dog's Purpose have been adapted from page to screen, to great fanfare, and there are more children's books about plucky heroines and their pets than can be counted on one hand. It's no secret why: many people are pet-lovers, or at the very least find animals fascinating and majestic creatures worthy of their attention both IRL and narratively. But what can be more difficult to find are books that delve into human relationships with animals in ways that are less saccharine and more introspective.
The list of 11 books below, both fiction and nonfiction, are all reads that dive into humans' relationships with animals. Some are about pets (The Friend by Sigrid Nunez and Lily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley are about dogs and their unique places in our lives), others are about sports (C.E. Morgans's The Sport of Kings follows horse raising while Kristin Knight Pace's memoir This Much Country is about sled dogs), but all give a unique look at the many different ways that animals can make a lasting impression of us in one way or another:
'The Friend' by Sigrid Nunez
When a woman unexpectedly loses her lifelong best friend and mentor, she finds herself suddenly responsible for the dog he has left behind.
'The Sport of Kings' by C.E. Morgan
This epic story of family, racism and justice follows stable worker Allmon Shaughnessy and his horse Hellsmouth, a wilful thoroughbred filly on whom a championship — and the family's legacy — lies.
'This Much Country' by Kristin Knight Pace
After a crippling divorce, Knight Pace accepts a life-changing offer to live at a friend's cabin outside of Denali National Park in Alaska, where she takes care of her eight sled dogs.
'Lily and the Octopus' by Steven Rowley
Ted Flask is a middle-aged man whose best friend — his aging dachshund, Lily — helps him cope with his love life, his loneliness, and her mortality.
'Dog Songs' by Mary Oliver
Beloved Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Mary Oliver lends a literary legitimacy and emotional center to her 2013 collection about the special bond between human and dog.
'H is For Hawk' by Helen Macdonald
After her father dies unexpectedly, experienced falconer Helen Macdonald adopts Mabel, a deadly goshawk, to help her work through her grief.
'Midwinter' by Fiona Melrose
Over the course of a Suffolk winter, a father and son grapple with their grief, raking over what remains of their fragile family unit. While Vale makes increasingly desperate decisions, Landyn finds solace in a fox who haunts the farm.
'Animals Strike Curious Poses' by Elena Passarello
In this essay collection, Passarello explores 16 different famous animals named and immortalized by humans, traversing history, myth, and science to bring each beast to life.
'The Honey Bus' by Meredith May
In her memoir, May recounts a childhood spent with her beloved grandfather, an eccentric beekeeper who made honey in a rusty old military bus in the yard.
'We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves' by Karen Joy Fowler
Fowler's novel about Rosemary Cooke and her family —including her sister, Fern, a chimpanzee — and her complicated upbringing speaks to animal rights activism and psychological side of the animal experiments that ran throughout the 1970's.
'How to Be a Good Creature: A Memoir in Thirteen Animals' by Sy Montgomery
In this poetic memoir, Montgomery reflects on the personalities and quirks of 13 animals who have profoundly affected her, with illustrations by Rebecca Green.