Wildlife writer who loves books about dogs and cats
While researching her many books, best-selling author Sy Montgomery seems to have run across most of the animal kingdom, from tarantulas to tigers. For “The Soul of an Octopus,” a finalist for the 2015 National Book Award, she visited with cephalopods in Polynesian waters and at BostonewaW`’s New England Aquarium. In her newest, “How to be a Good Creature: A Memoir in 13 Animals,” Montgomery explores what her adventures with these creatures has taught her about being human. She’ll discuss her book with author Vicki Constantine Croke at 7 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 28 at Harvard Book Store.
BOOKS: What are you reading?
MONTGOMERY: “The Sun is a Compass” by Caroline Van Hemert, which comes out in March. She went on 4,000-mile wilderness journey from the Pacific rainforest to Arctic Alaska without the help of any machines. She’s an ornithologist who felt she was getting disconnected from the nature that she was actually studying in a laboratory. It’s fantastic.
BOOKS: What was your last best read?
MONTGOMERY: I guess it was a reread, Robin Wall Kimmerer’s “Braiding Sweetgrass.” She’s a botanist and Native American herbalist. We love nature, but we don’t think that it loves us back. She says it does, which makes us care more about it. Man, at a time like this, when we’re having this hot summer and all kind of ticks and horrible diseases coming north to New England, it’s great to read this. It makes you stronger in fighting the threats [to the environment].
BOOKS: What other books have inspired you?
MONTGOMERY: Some of the books that inspired me as a young person are “My Life with the Chimpanzees” by Jane Goodall, “Gorillas in the Mist” by Dian Fossey, “Of Wolves and Men” by Barry Lopez, “King Solomon’s Ring” by Konrad Lorenz, “The Outermost House” by Henry Beston, “Lives of a Cell” by Lewis Thomas, “The Edge of the Sea” by Rachel Carson, and “Life on a Little Known Planet” by Howard Ensign Evans, which is about the insects. He dedicated the book to the lice and silverfish that lived in his study.
BOOKS: Is there one animal you’ve read about the most?
MONTGOMERY: Not really because for every book I write I read a lot about that animal. I love to read about dogs and cats. One of the earliest books I remember reading as a kid that made me feel like I wanted to be an author was Farley Mowat’s “The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be.” He was Canada’s premier storyteller. I got to know him later. He talked just like he wrote. He also smoked, wore a nicotine patch, and chewed nicotine gum.
BOOKS: Do you read about anything outside of animals?
MONTGOMERY: I read a lot of my husband’s stuff because I’m his first reader. He’s got a new book out when I do, which is why we won’t be together for our 31st anniversary. We will be on the road flogging our books Howard [Mansfield] is a historian. His book is called “The Habit of Turning the World Upside Down,” about the American concept of property. Because I care so much about preserving the night sky and the forest, and history too I read a lot of the kind of stuff my husband reads.
BOOKS: What other books would your recommend in that category?
MONTGOMERY: John Hanson Mitchell’s books, especially his “Ceremonial Time.’’ He looks at 15,000 years in one square mile in New England. That takes you back to the Ice Age, and includes colonists, farmers, witches, and bear shamans. It’s brilliant. He also wrote a novel, “The Last of the Bird People.” It takes place in 1928 in the Quabbin Reservoir.
BOOKS: Do you read much fiction?
MONTGOMERY: No, and I love fiction. I have to read so much nonfiction for my work. And I get sent a lot books to blurb. When I was a young unknown writer, the blurbs that known writers gave me really helped my career. So I take this seriously, and I also get to read a lot of terrific books, like Ben Goldfarb’s “Eager: The Surprising, Secret Life of Beavers and Why They Matter.” I’m really honored to be an early reader of books like that.
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