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Book excerpt: "On Animals" by Susan Orlean

Susan Orlean's "On Animals" (published by Simon & Schuster, a division of ViacomCBS) is a collection of The New Yorker magazine writer's essays that evokes her lifelong fascination with all creatures great and small.

Read an excerpt below.

Simon & Schuster

Even before the cats, before the dogs, before the chickens, before the turkeys, before the ducks and the guinea fowl and the betta fish and the Black Angus cattle, I was always a little animalish. I don't just mean as a child, since all children love animals and come by being animalish quite naturally. I don't just mean as a young girl—that golden moment when I, like millions of young girls throughout human history, fell into an adolescent swoon over horses and, to a lesser degree, puppies. I mean that somehow or other, in whatever kind of life I happened to be leading, animals have always been my style. They have been a part of my life even when I didn't have any animals, and when I did have them, they always seemed to elbow their way onto center stage.

Has it been a simple matter of mathematics? That is, have there been more creatures in my orbit than in other people's? Or do I merely notice them more and draw them a little closer than someone else might? There has certainly been an element of serendipity. I seem to have a higher-than-average tendency to find animals in my path. In 1986, when I was relocating to Manhattan, I resigned myself to what I assumed would be a life with very little animal adjacency except for the occasional dog or two. The day I moved into my new apartment, I unpacked a few boxes and then decided to go outside for some air. As I stepped onto the sidewalk, I collided with a man who was walking a pet rabbit on a silver leash. I spun to a stop, flabbergasted. The man didn't register my surprise; he was too busy trying to manage the rabbit, which was huge, coffee-colored, and ornery. Each time the man took a step, the rabbit braced against the leash, stretching it taut, and only then, with a cold look in its eye, would it give a flabby, half-hearted hop.

"Please, Rover, please," the rabbit's owner called out, in an aching, exasperated voice. "Now, that's a good Rover. Come on, boy! Hop!"

Now and again, I have been asked—and have asked myself—the obvious question: Why animals? There's no simple answer. I'm curious about animals. They amuse me. They keep me company. They're nice to look at. Some of them provide me with breakfast food. I think I have the same response to animals that I would if Martians landed on Earth: I would like to get to know them and befriend them, all the while knowing we were not quite of the same ilk. They seem to have something in common with us, and yet they're alien, unknowable, familiar but mysterious.

From "On Animals" by Susan Orlean. Copyright © 2021 by Amanda Ripley. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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