Animal Happiness, by Vicki Hearne is the easiest of her books to read. For me.
And, here’s why it may be that for you.
Rather than carefully making your way through her prose, stopping to figure out her many layered philosophical references, or unexpectedly falling over a punch line before you get back to the story that she started five pages back …
you are immediately engaged; caught up in whichever story you’ve decided to read.
Because this is a book that you don’t have to read front-to-back. You can choose a story depending on your mood.
Have a yen for an entertaining story about tortoises? She wrote it.
Along with stories about horses, Great Danes, Nordic breeds, donkeys, Golden Retrievers, a lion named Scrapper, who died of a broken heart, kangaroo rats, a scorpion named Sarah, water hounds, Deer Hounds, Airedales … She wrote these too.
Hearne is not (thank God) a cutesy writer. She doesn’t dummy down her writing with animals that become substitute children for humans, nor does her writing coo or in any way drip syrupy sentiment onto the pages.
But. She’s too smart to shy away from more rigorous writing. If you want to test your powers of concentration against Hearne’s intellectual viewpoint, read Hearne’s essay Beware of the Dog!
This essay pokes fun at Dorothy Parker (I think), celebrates James Thurber, digs into feminism, women writers and the theory of relativity.
Hearne is, as I warned in an earlier post, not for the faint hearted. Which is an intimidating thing to understand about her writing.
Which is why I almost put this book into the pile destined to go back to the library Before I Read It. And then, I decided to just take a peek. I skimmed over the first chapter about a leopard (two and a half pages) and dived into Chapter two: Honcho de Dedeaux.
Also two and a half pages.
Honcho’s a Rottweiler – a dog that the breeder summed up as having the right attitude.
Hearne writes this about Honcho: “His attitude was right. He stood tall, regarding the world with humor and friendly curiosity, fearless and without resentment or anger. Such a pup will forgive you your errors in handling and will not bail out on you when the going gets rough.” (pg. 10)
I liked what she wrote. On one level, this kind of writing appeals to my own sense of how I want to write about dogs. I don’t do cutesy. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, if cutesy is what appeals to you. And, on another level, I’m a sucker for a good story about dogs.
If that’s true for you too, then get ready. These are not just good stories. They’re great stories! Which makes Vicki Hearne a Great Story Teller.
For me, that’s the value of Animal Happiness, despite Hearne’s claim that “I have heard and read and forgotten far more than anyone has a right to about dogs.” (pg 127)
If Animal Happiness is anything to go by, what Hearne forgot about dogs just isn’t worth knowing.
A little housekeeping note: I’m an Amazon affiliate which means that if you decide to purchase this book by clicking on any of the live links in this post, I will receive a commission from the sale.
Which I intend to tuck away until the sum total of my Amazon commissions reaches $100.00. And, when THAT happens, I’ll make a donation to a worthy animal shelter. How cool is that?