*I did receive a digital version of this title from NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased review*
This is the second book that I have read from the naturalist author Sy Montgomery. While I definitely enjoyed The Soul of an Octopus I was expecting a little bit more, though, perhaps that was due to the surrounding hype of that particular book. However, after now finishing How to Be a Good Creature: A Memoir In Thirteen Animals, Montgomery is now established as a superb author of the natural world in my mind. Her ability to craft a narrative between her previous experiences with the animals she interacted with in the past and also combining life lessons is tremendous. Not only are the encounters between the author and these thirteen animals enjoyable to read about, the animals themselves become strong characters in their own right.
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The only real flaw with the book is its brevity in that the reader is wanting more, whether that be from longer discussions of each encounter or more encounters overall! In all seriousness, the shorter episodes allow almost for a more visceral reading in that all the emotion and meaning behind each encounter is able to be conveyed in a fairly short space. Adding too much length to each individual animal or adding more animals would have made each specific incident a little less meaningful. In this way the shorter length of this memoir was turned into a strength.
Some of the other great things about this book have already been hinted at. Despite the whimsical animals adorning the cover and the inherent cuteness of most of the animals discussed, this memoir can get pretty raw really fast. The author discusses a few heavy topics from her own life and family history. Many times it is an encounter of some form with an animal that allows hew to push through a problem or cope with an underlying issue. What is interesting is that the ways in which these animals are able to achieve this are in ways that can be rather unexpected. A prime example would be her encounter with an ermine that just killed one of her beloved pet hens. Most people would react with anger in an instance such as this. Instead the author is able to appreciate this encounter for what it is and is able to come away with a better understanding of her mother, who was cold and quite unaccepting to say the least. Another interesting aspect of this book is that the animals are not just pets and superstar species (though many pets are indeed included), but also a tarantula, emus, and an octopus. A few of these animals also have dedicated books of their own such as The Good Good Pig for the authors former pet pig Christopher Hogwood and the aforementioned The Soul of an Octopus.
Overall, How to Be a Good Creature: A Memoir in Thirteen Animals is quick read that pack a big punch. A charming memoir that includes many lovable animals and has the potential to leave a big impact, this memoir would be a great book for animal lovers and everyone else alike.
5 out of 5 stars.