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How to Be a Good Creature: A Memoir in Thirteen Animals

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National Book Award finalist Sy Montgomery reflects on the personalities and quirks of 13 animals--her friends--who have profoundly affected her in this stunning, poetic, and life-affirming memoir featuring illustrations by Rebecca Green. Understanding someone who belongs to another species can be transformative. No one knows this better than author, naturalist, and advent National Book Award finalist Sy Montgomery reflects on the personalities and quirks of 13 animals--her friends--who have profoundly affected her in this stunning, poetic, and life-affirming memoir featuring illustrations by Rebecca Green. Understanding someone who belongs to another species can be transformative. No one knows this better than author, naturalist, and adventurer Sy Montgomery. To research her books, Sy has traveled the world and encountered some of the planet's rarest and most beautiful animals. From tarantulas to tigers, Sy's life continually intersects with and is informed by the creatures she meets. This restorative memoir reflects on the personalities and quirks of thirteen animals--Sy's friends--and the truths revealed by their grace. It also explores vast themes: the otherness and sameness of people and animals; the various ways we learn to love and become empathetic; how we find our passion; how we create our families; coping with loss and despair; gratitude; forgiveness; and most of all, how to be a good creature in the world.


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National Book Award finalist Sy Montgomery reflects on the personalities and quirks of 13 animals--her friends--who have profoundly affected her in this stunning, poetic, and life-affirming memoir featuring illustrations by Rebecca Green. Understanding someone who belongs to another species can be transformative. No one knows this better than author, naturalist, and advent National Book Award finalist Sy Montgomery reflects on the personalities and quirks of 13 animals--her friends--who have profoundly affected her in this stunning, poetic, and life-affirming memoir featuring illustrations by Rebecca Green. Understanding someone who belongs to another species can be transformative. No one knows this better than author, naturalist, and adventurer Sy Montgomery. To research her books, Sy has traveled the world and encountered some of the planet's rarest and most beautiful animals. From tarantulas to tigers, Sy's life continually intersects with and is informed by the creatures she meets. This restorative memoir reflects on the personalities and quirks of thirteen animals--Sy's friends--and the truths revealed by their grace. It also explores vast themes: the otherness and sameness of people and animals; the various ways we learn to love and become empathetic; how we find our passion; how we create our families; coping with loss and despair; gratitude; forgiveness; and most of all, how to be a good creature in the world.

30 review for How to Be a Good Creature: A Memoir in Thirteen Animals

  1. 5 out of 5

    Dorie - Traveling Sister :)

    The cover of this book is what caught my eye, what a beautiful illustration. There are whimsical drawings throughout the book and a wonderful gallery of photographs of Ms. Montgomery with some of her animal friends at the end of the book. I won’t go through all of the animals that are mentioned in the book but my favorite was Christopher Hogwood the pig and his very large personality. Even when he had grown huge and powerful he was a gentle pig. Sy describes the two preteen neighbor girls giving The cover of this book is what caught my eye, what a beautiful illustration. There are whimsical drawings throughout the book and a wonderful gallery of photographs of Ms. Montgomery with some of her animal friends at the end of the book. I won’t go through all of the animals that are mentioned in the book but my favorite was Christopher Hogwood the pig and his very large personality. Even when he had grown huge and powerful he was a gentle pig. Sy describes the two preteen neighbor girls giving him a spa treatment “We fetched warm buckets of soapy water . . . we added products created for horses to apply to his hooves to make them shine Grunting his contentment as he lay in his pool of soapy water, Christopher make clear he adored his spa “ Ms. Montgomery seems able to bond with all sorts of creature even a tarantula, I love animals but they have to be the furry kind. Although Ms. Montgomery would even argue that point as she describes the tarantula’s legs “Despite spiders reputations as dirty, nasty “bugs,” tarantulas are as immaculate as cats, carefully cleaning any dirt that falls on their bodies by meticulously drawing the hairs on their legs through the mouth, using their fangs like the teeth of a comb” Despite the whimsy of the illustrations there is genuine heartbreak here also. Ms. Montgomery describes the early years of her arranged living style with her partner, Howard, and her animals in such a loving way, however apparently her mother felt she was living so out of the sphere of what she considered “normal” that she disowned her. Along with the love of an animal, of course, comes the heartbreak when they pass away. It seems as deeply as she was in love with her animal friends she also suffered severe depression upon their passing. It sometimes took several years before she even considered added another pet/friend to the household. Because the author honestly tells us how deeply her depression was felt with even thoughts of harming herself I would suggest caution in giving this book to anyone under the age of perhaps 15? Of course that is my personal opinion, she is being honest with the reader but sometimes depression can be very hard to understand. I was very glad that I read this memoir as Ms. Montgomery certainly has lived a life worth remembering and sharing. I love the quote below that was in the author’s biography : “Go out into the world where your heart calls you. The blessings will come, I promise you that. I wish for you the insight to recognize the blessings as such, and sometimes it's hard. But you'll know it's a blessing if you are enriched and transformed by the experience. So be ready. There are great souls and teachers everywhere. It's your job to recognize them.” ― Sy Montgomery I received an ARC of this memoir from the publisher through Edelweiss

  2. 5 out of 5

    Barbara

    Sy Montgomery writes books and documentaries about animals for both children and adults. In this book, Montgomery shares stories about some of her favorite creatures, including her family pets; an octopus in an aquarium; and creatures in their natural environment. Sy Montgomery Montgomery travels around the world to research her books, and has visited the cloud forests of Papua New Guinea; Mongolia's Gobi Desert; Amazon rivers; the Australian Outback; and much more. Every animal Montgomery got to Sy Montgomery writes books and documentaries about animals for both children and adults. In this book, Montgomery shares stories about some of her favorite creatures, including her family pets; an octopus in an aquarium; and creatures in their natural environment. Sy Montgomery Montgomery travels around the world to research her books, and has visited the cloud forests of Papua New Guinea; Mongolia's Gobi Desert; Amazon rivers; the Australian Outback; and much more. Every animal Montgomery got to know was a good creature - "a marvel and perfect in his or her own way" - and each one helped her become a better person. Sy's love affair with animals began when she was a child and her family adopted a Scottish terrier named Molly. Young Sy wanted to be just like Molly, "Fierce. Feral. Unstoppable." The author relates anecdotes about Molly breaking her tether to chase rabbits; stealing black dress socks and shaking them to death; capturing soccer balls and killing them; and being saluted as she trotted by the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (though that might be because Molly was the General's canine). A Scottish terrier Sy was enraptured by Molly's "otherworldly powers" - the dog's enhanced abilities to hear, smell, and see in the dark. To learn more about these superpowers, little Sy intensely studied every inch of the canine, from her tongue to her anus - and daydreamed about running away with Molly, living in the woods, and learning the secrets of wild animals. Sy grew up to fulfill this ambition, and became a renowned naturalist and animal expert. ***** Montgomery has studied animals of every description. For example, she made friends with three emus in the Australian Outback after, in her words, the first sight of them felt like a "shock stung the top of my head, like a laser bolt." To determine if emus were important dispersers of seeds, Montgomery spent her days searching for 'emu pies' and following the birds, who she named Black Head; Knackered Leg (for a leg injury); and Bald Throat (for a whitish patch on the neck). An emu 'Black Head, Knackered Leg, and Bald Throat' It took a while, but the huge flightless birds eventually accepted Montgomery's presence, allowing her to follow them and even sleep with them. The writer studied the emus for six months, and wept when it was time to return home, where she would miss the peace, joy, and satisfaction the birds had given her. ***** Sy and her husband Howard Mansfield (the writer) live on a farm in Hancock, New Hampshire - perfect for raising animals. At a low point in Sy's life - when she was deeply depressed about the cancellation of a book deal and the loss of her father - Howard arranged for the adoption of a sick baby pig to cheer Sy up. Sy Montgomery's husband, Howard Mansfield The piglet, named Christopher Hogwood, needed warmth, love, and TLC - and caring for him helped Sy heal. Christopher loved to eat, play, snuggle, explore, and meet people, and he often broke out of his pen to visit the neighbors.....who would call Sy to retrieve him. Thus Christopher helped Sy make new friends, and gave her something to talk about at parties. Christopher Hogwood when he was a young pig Sy Montgomery with full grown Christopher Hogwood (750 pounds) Christopher was soon joined by 'the ladies', a gaggle of black, sex-link hens gifted by Sy's friend. The chickens enjoyed being petted, picked up, and kissed on their combs. Sy Montgomery and Howard Mansfield with 'the ladies' Sy Montgomery feeding 'the ladies' Sy Montgomery playing with one of her chickens Then came Tess, a previously abused two-year-old black and white border collie - who liked to play with toys, catch frisbees, and go for hikes. Tess amazed Sy with her intelligence, strength, and agility. Howard Mansfield with a border collie A pet border collie The menagerie at the farm attracted visitors from the entire neighborhood, especially two schoolgirls next door, who saved their lunches for Christopher, made him a 'pig spa' (for baths), and visited the farm every day - essentially becoming part of Sy and Howard's family. In essence, the domestic animals helped Sy (who's childless by choice) acquire a large extended family to love. ***** Montgomery traveled to French Guiana in South America to meet the "Goliath birdeater", the largest tarantula on Earth, who has a leg span that can cover a person's face (think of the larval monster in the movie 'Alien' 😵☠ ). A Goliath birdeater In French Guiana, Sy fell in love with a tarantula called Clarabelle, who became the spider ambassador to a group of Guianan schoolchildren. The brave kids even consented to hold Clarabelle on their palms, and one little girl exclaimed, "Elle est belle, le monstre." (She is beautiful, the monster.) [FYI: In graduate school I worked for an entomologist/arachnologist who whipped out a tarantula whenever he interviewed a new job applicant, just for fun. He probably lost a few prospective employees. 😁] Sy Montgomery with a tarantula Other animals Montgomery writes about in the book include: - An ermine that, following its instincts, killed one of the farm's pet chickens (Sy was sad but doesn't hold a grudge). - Tree kangaroos in Papua New Guinea - which required three days of arduous mountain hiking to reach. - A giant Pacific octopus called Octavia, who lived in the New England Aquarium and liked to embrace Montgomery's arms with her tentacles. An ermine A tree kangaroo Octavia the octopus Sy Montgomery with Octavia the octopus ***** When - at ripe old ages - Christopher (the pig) and Tess (the dog) died, Montgomery was so grief-stricken that she considered suicide. Sy's hair fell out, her gums bled, and her brain misfired, making it hard to remember words. Months later Tess came to Sy in a dream, showing her a new border collie to adopt. After considerable searching, on border collie rescue sites and at rescue facilities, a friend came up with the exact right dog. Sy's husband Howard took some convincing, but soon enough Sally - a female border collie who'd been seriously mistreated - came to the farm. Sally was a handful! She dug holes in the lawn; constantly ate and rolled in other animals' poop; and ate any food she could reach - including Howard's crab cakes; a birthday cake; an entire box of oatmeal; lunches out of backpacks; and sandwiches on their way to a person's mouth. But Sally was also a fun playmate, an enthusiastic hiker, and an affectionate pooch. Sally loved to be kissed and brushed, and she made Sy "unspeakably happy." After Sally passed away, Sy and Howard got a third border collie called Thurber, who's "so happy that he sings." Thurber is especially prone to howl along with morning radio; Bruce Springsteen; and the songs 'Say Something' and "Gracias a la Vida." ***** In addition to talking about her animals, Montgomery includes snippets about her personal life - which wasn't always easy. In addition to suffering from repeated bouts of deep depression following the loss of people and animals, Montgomery had a fraught relationship with her parents. According to Sy's aunt, her mother smothered and shook her repeatedly when she was a baby, because her crying "ruined mom's cocktail hour." Whatever happened, two-year-old Sy fell dangerously ill, and didn't play, talk, or grow for months. Sy's parents worked hard to make her well, and small Sy's love of animals (including Molly) helped her recover. Montgomery's parents also rejected her as an adult, after she became a naturalist. They were disappointed that she didn't train for the army in college and adopt their lifestyle. Sy's parents kept a membership for her at both the 'Army Navy Town Club' and 'Army Navy Country Club' in Washington, D.C., hoping she'd meet a suitable military man. Instead, Sy married a middle-class, liberal Jewish writer. A week after the wedding, Sy's wealthy, conservative Methodist father wrote her a letter in which he formally disowned her and compared her to "the serpent that did sting thy father's life" (a quote from Hamlet). Sy later (more or less) reconciled with her parents, but they never allowed her husband Howard into their home. Nevertheless, in her acknowledgements Montgomery notes that, although she and her parents had many disagreements, "I always loved them. I know that, in their own way, they loved me, too." Sy notes that she wouldn't have wanted any other parents, because her folks made her the determined person she is. At the end of the story, Montgomery lists the ten books that inspired her to write about the natural world, and the books she's penned for adults and children. Because of the personal anecdotes, this book is probably suitable for ages 12 to adult (though small children would like the animal stories). I enjoyed the book and recommend it to people interested in animals and nature. Thanks to Netgalley, the author (Sy Montgomery), and the publisher (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) for a copy of the book. You can follow my reviews at https://reviewsbybarbsaffer.blogspot....

  3. 4 out of 5

    Cheri

    I had seen the cover of this book, had been drawn in by the illustrations on the cover but knew little about the contents until I read my goodreads friend Dorie’s review. Then I knew I wanted to read it and requested it from the library, thinking that it would be months before it would be my turn, so I was surprised when I received a notification that my turn had arrived! In the introduction, Sy Montgomery speaks of her travels around the world and how a saying that came to her once has become a I had seen the cover of this book, had been drawn in by the illustrations on the cover but knew little about the contents until I read my goodreads friend Dorie’s review. Then I knew I wanted to read it and requested it from the library, thinking that it would be months before it would be my turn, so I was surprised when I received a notification that my turn had arrived! In the introduction, Sy Montgomery speaks of her travels around the world and how a saying that came to her once has become a promise: ”When a student is ready, the teacher will appear,” and that foremost among her teachers have been animals. Some who have come to share their lives with her at the home she shares with her husband, author Howard Mansfield. ”What have animals taught me about life? How to be a good creature.” These pages, and there are only slightly over 200 pages, are filled with more fanciful drawings throughout, as well as a wisdom of the importance of the connection with animals. These are not all animals one associates as being pets, some are found in some of the exotic locations she visits, and some are found in the ocean – or aquariums, on top of the highest peaks of mountains, in places most of us will never see outside the pages of a book. Still, there is more to this memoir than the thirteen animals she talks about. There is her own personal journey, which like most people is filled with more than happiness. With each loss of a beloved animal, her heart breaks a little and takes time to be ready to open the proverbial curtains and let the light back in. With each introduction to a new animal, a new species sometimes, she responds with the natural wonder and curiosity of a child – without fear, with a view of them as yet another animal, not so unlike herself (minus the fur, or tentacles or snout or six legs…) with an acknowledgement of their right to call this place home, too. ”To begin to understand the life of any animals demands not only curiosity, not only skill, and not only intellect. I saw that I would also need to summon the bond I had forged with Molly. I would need to open not only my mind, but also my heart.” On its release, this was ranked #9 on the New York Times Bestseller list, and People magazine listed it as one of The Best New Books of the year, an impressive first day! There is even some lovely prose within these pages, adding a lovely touch to these pages, which have such a wonderful balance of the “facts” alongside her heartfelt emotions, and alongside some relevant quotes, such as the following quote by Greek Philosopher Thales of Miletus – “’The universe,’ he’s reported to have said, ‘is alive, and has fire in it, and is full of gods.’ Being friends with an octopus – whatever that friendship meant to her – has shown me that our world, and the worlds around and within it, is aflame with shades of brilliance we cannot fathom – and is far more vibrant, far more holy, than we could ever imagine.’” Recommended Many thanks, once again, to the Public Library system, and the many Librarians that manage, organize and keep it running, for the loan of this book!

  4. 4 out of 5

    Enchantress debbicat ☮~Traveling Sister

    5 BIG HAPPY stars! If you wanna know how to be good creature, you can learn this from animals, like Sy did with 13 written about here. Such a good book! I must buy a copy. I enjoyed hearing about all 13 of her animal loves. My favorites were the dogs, Christopher Hogwood, the good pig, Octavia the Octopus, and the Clarabelle, the tarantula. So much to learn here and enjoy. "Understanding someone who belongs to another species can be transformative. No one knows this better than author, naturalis 5 BIG HAPPY stars! If you wanna know how to be good creature, you can learn this from animals, like Sy did with 13 written about here. Such a good book! I must buy a copy. I enjoyed hearing about all 13 of her animal loves. My favorites were the dogs, Christopher Hogwood, the good pig, Octavia the Octopus, and the Clarabelle, the tarantula. So much to learn here and enjoy. "Understanding someone who belongs to another species can be transformative. No one knows this better than author, naturalist, and adventurer Sy Montgomery." ~(from the library book blurb) I have read one other book by Sy Montgomery. It was The Soul of an Octopus. I enjoyed it immensely. Now I want to read all of her books. At the end of the book she gives a list of 10 books she recommends to read that helped her on her journey. She writes with such a true heart. I feel like we would be very good friends. I also have a number of rescues that live with me. I learn daily from them and can relate to much of what she trys to relay in her book. I don't know where I would be without the animal friends of my life. I would not be who I am today. Many thanks to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt via NetGalley and Sy Montgomery for a digital copy to read for review. I highly recommend it!

  5. 5 out of 5

    KC

    This is a fascinating look at one woman's journey with the animals she's met and loved throughout her life. The illustrations are captivating. I can't believe I cried over an octopus!

  6. 4 out of 5

    Barbara

    There are so many wonderful adjectives I could use to describe this book : lovely, engaging, entrancing, profound, and full of discovery. Montgomery has dedicated her life to traveling the world to write about animal life around the globe. She also has had a number of animals in her life including dogs, chickens, and a pig, and lives with her husband on a farm in New Hampshire. The animals she writes about include a Scottish Terrier, Border Collies, emus in the Australian Outback, a pet pig, a G There are so many wonderful adjectives I could use to describe this book : lovely, engaging, entrancing, profound, and full of discovery. Montgomery has dedicated her life to traveling the world to write about animal life around the globe. She also has had a number of animals in her life including dogs, chickens, and a pig, and lives with her husband on a farm in New Hampshire. The animals she writes about include a Scottish Terrier, Border Collies, emus in the Australian Outback, a pet pig, a Goliath birdeater tarantula, a white weasel (a threat to her chickens), tree kangaroos in the Cloud Forest of New Guinea, and octupuses (yes that is the plural). Her love for these animals (yes she includes all of these creatures in that category), is intense. Animals, sadly, have shorter life spans than humans, and when these animals die, Montgomery is deeply affected. When she loses pets, she plunges into dark depressions, and even contemplates taking her own life. Montgomery is a woman of intense feelings. You will love these animals with her as you read her account. The book is under 200 pages, with lovely whimsical illustrations by Rebecca Green, and photographs at the end of the book. I recommend this book to any reader who appreciates nature and "likes" animals. You will finish it, loving animals and with a passion for nature.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    Author Sy Montgomery’s childhood Scottish Terrier taught her to be tough and independent. Twelve more animals she has shared her life with, including an octopus and a tarantula, have each taught her something about life and herself. Sy truly understands and appreciates animals. This illustrated memoir is so charming and reminded me that to slow down and give my own fur babies extra cuddles is good for the soul, theirs and mine.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Fox

    How to Be a Good Creature is a book unlike any other I've yet read. If you know me, you know I've been rescuing hedgehogs for a number of years now. I've worked with animals close to death and brought them back to a happy, healthy state. I've worked with animals that hated everyone, but taught them to love me and accept others. I've worked with any number of these little creatures, and the one thing I can say after having done this for over six years now is that every single one that has come in How to Be a Good Creature is a book unlike any other I've yet read. If you know me, you know I've been rescuing hedgehogs for a number of years now. I've worked with animals close to death and brought them back to a happy, healthy state. I've worked with animals that hated everyone, but taught them to love me and accept others. I've worked with any number of these little creatures, and the one thing I can say after having done this for over six years now is that every single one that has come into my care has taught me something. Every animal I've met has taught me something. Sometimes the lesson is not one that I wanted to learn, but it has always been meaningful and live altering. I'm grateful for that. Sy Montgomery feels very much the same way, and has authored a memoir with each chapter focusing upon a different animal in her life. Here you will learn from dogs and tarantulas, tree kangaroos and octopuses. You will learn to respect creatures that perhaps you formerly feared, and how similar we all are in the end. How much we have to learn. This book shoots from the hip and doesn't shy away from a number of different, difficult topics. Mental health most of all. This is a very admirable work, and one that I could see becoming a classic within the animal literature world. While it is perhaps a bit too explicit in how devastating loss can be at times, I think in the end this book would be valuable for even a younger crowd to learn to interact with animals in a new, and better way. Thank you, Sy Montgomery. Thank you over and over again.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Cheryl

    Squee!! Oh I do hope at least one of my libraries gets this promptly! Or maybe I'll have to buy it. Direct from Sy, because she should get all the proceeds....

  10. 4 out of 5

    Candace

    What a treat. Having only previously listened to a part of The Soul of an Octopus’ audio before my library loan expired, I knew what Montgomery was about: Animals. Unique experiences. Love. This book made especially for young readers is wonderful. It chronicles the animals that taught Montgomery throughout her interesting life. Although there are a few of man’s best friend (dogs) count also emus, a tarantula, a pig, an octopus, and a weasel among others. With life lessons, gorgeous illustrations What a treat. Having only previously listened to a part of The Soul of an Octopus’ audio before my library loan expired, I knew what Montgomery was about: Animals. Unique experiences. Love. This book made especially for young readers is wonderful. It chronicles the animals that taught Montgomery throughout her interesting life. Although there are a few of man’s best friend (dogs) count also emus, a tarantula, a pig, an octopus, and a weasel among others. With life lessons, gorgeous illustrations and a note of sadness (if you’ve recently lost a pet bring Kleenex) Montgomery shows how animals can teach us valuable lessons even when you least expect it.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Ilana S.

    More like 4.5 stars 🙂 I’m an unabashed animal lover/nutcase with three furkids of my own—of the kind that remains relatively unmoved at the sight of adorable babies, but goes absolutely nutters over dogs, cats, elephants, cows, horses, pigs, frogs, spiders, bears, beetles, bees, marsupials, octopuses, whales, mice, and just about any non-human critter living on this planet (except for roaches and mosquitoes 😖). As such, I absolutely love Sy Montgomery’s books, who’s passion for animals is positiv More like 4.5 stars 🙂 I’m an unabashed animal lover/nutcase with three furkids of my own—of the kind that remains relatively unmoved at the sight of adorable babies, but goes absolutely nutters over dogs, cats, elephants, cows, horses, pigs, frogs, spiders, bears, beetles, bees, marsupials, octopuses, whales, mice, and just about any non-human critter living on this planet (except for roaches and mosquitoes 😖). As such, I absolutely love Sy Montgomery’s books, who’s passion for animals is positively infectious. She has dedicated her life to researching them and travelled the world to encounter countless known and rare species to write about them. This, her latest charmingly illustrated book, came about when an interviewer asked her what lessons animals taught Sy about herself, and her almost immediate answer came: “How to be a good creature”. Here she briefly talks about 13 different critters she has encountered in her lifetime who taught her important life lessons: from her first dog, Molly, a Scottish terrier adopted when she was 3 and which she strove to emulate in every way to her mother’s great despair; a threesome of emu siblings which she undertook to study to satisfy her own burning curiosity as to their habits in the Australian outback; Christopher Hogwood, a pig she adopted as a runt so sick and small he had few chances of survival and who grew to become a 750 lbs “Buddha master” and the subject of her bestselling book “The Good Good Pig” when he passed after a very contented life, aged 14; Clarabelle, an Avicularia, or large species of tarantula with distinguishable pink footpads and a friendly personality encountered on a trip in French Guiana; Tess, Sally and Thurber, border collies who became irreplaceable members of the family; an octopus named Octavia who was also the fascinating subject of an excellent standalone book, called “The Soul of an Octopus”, to name a few. If you’ve never read a book by this author, this is a great way to get acquainted with her work. If you’ve already read and enjoyed some of Montgomery’s books, “How To Be a Good Creature” will get you better acquainted with Sy Montgomery and introduce you to several creatures you likely haven’t met before, or you’ll surely find some new anecdotes to smile at or sympathize with. Another part of the book I really liked was the For Further Reading section, where Montgomery lists ten books that inspired her to start studying and writing about the natural world. Highly recommend, naturally. 🙂

  12. 5 out of 5

    Maggie Holmes

    I loved Soul of the Octopus and I was eager to read this book (thank you Edelweiss for the prepub copy.) I cried and laughed throughout; wanted to go on expeditions to see some of the animals; and marveled at Sy's wonderful supportive group of friends. As my cat meows constantly at me because I've shut him up in a room so he won't eat my muffin, I wonder if cats teach us to be a good creature. I'll have to pay more attention. This book -- like all good nonfiction -- makes you want to go learn mo I loved Soul of the Octopus and I was eager to read this book (thank you Edelweiss for the prepub copy.) I cried and laughed throughout; wanted to go on expeditions to see some of the animals; and marveled at Sy's wonderful supportive group of friends. As my cat meows constantly at me because I've shut him up in a room so he won't eat my muffin, I wonder if cats teach us to be a good creature. I'll have to pay more attention. This book -- like all good nonfiction -- makes you want to go learn more, read more, experience more. Thank you, Sy.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Waverly Fitzgerald

    This is one of those books that can change your life. And those are rare. Sy Montgomery whose work as a writer about animals I knew and admired, here tells with honest and lyrical prose, the story of her life through her relationships with different animals, beginning with her appreciation for the qualities of her childhood pet, Molly the Scottie. The next chapter tells how she discovered her true career (writing about animals) in her twenties while observing a trio of emus in the Australian outb This is one of those books that can change your life. And those are rare. Sy Montgomery whose work as a writer about animals I knew and admired, here tells with honest and lyrical prose, the story of her life through her relationships with different animals, beginning with her appreciation for the qualities of her childhood pet, Molly the Scottie. The next chapter tells how she discovered her true career (writing about animals) in her twenties while observing a trio of emus in the Australian outback. Each essay, and they each can stand alone as tributes to these significant creatures, adds to and echoes the theme of others. So while we meet her fierce mother, in the first chapter, we get a sense of resolution in the chapter where she encounters a ermine who has just killed one of her beloved chickens and is able to understand and forgive both the ermine and her mother. For me the most powerful part of the book was reading about the deep depression she experienced after losing her two beloved pets, Chris Hogwood the pig, and Tess, the border collie, a depression that was healed by exposure to more exotic animals in New Guinea; the way Tess came to her in a dream to encourage her to adopt another dog; and the way that dog, Sally, who was the opposite of Tess, became a beloved member of the family. At the time I was grieving the loss of my Chihuahua companion, Pepe, and somewhat disappointed with the dog I had adopted to replace him, Flora. But after reading Sy's story, I woke up an appreciation of Flora's unique personality and role in my life. And quite quickly it became clear what an amazing dog she is. It was a humbling recognition of how my perception could color my attitudes and thus affect the bond between us. There is much more to this book: charming illustrations, amazing adventures, all sorts of animals from octopuses to tarantulas, but the thread that runs through it is Sy's respect for and appreciation of the animals she encounters. Also great quotes for instance: John Ruskin calling moss "the first mercy of the Earth." Or this quote from British poet Edith Sitwell: Love is not changed by death and nothing is lost, and in the end, all is harvest." Of this from Thales of Miletus, a Greek philospher: The universe is alive, and has fire in it, and is full of gods." She thoughtfully uses the end of her book to share photos from her life showing many of the creatures she has written about and the books that were pivotal in shaping her love for animals. I had not read any of them and now I want to. Especially Henry Beston, who wrote The Outermost House and who she quotes: We need another, and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals . . . For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours, they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we hall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Triumphal Reads

    *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 *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. 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.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Joan

    I think this would appeal to anyone who has loved Montgomery's animals books, kid, teen, or adult. It is surprisingly personal and intense. I had no idea how much she struggled with depression. She may have forgiven her parents but they certainly seem like nasty people. She had the humility to learn from her animal friends and to love them. She also was incredibly open minded. She became friends with a tarantula, shudder....I'm afraid of spiders....and several octopusi (NEAT!) as well as the sli I think this would appeal to anyone who has loved Montgomery's animals books, kid, teen, or adult. It is surprisingly personal and intense. I had no idea how much she struggled with depression. She may have forgiven her parents but they certainly seem like nasty people. She had the humility to learn from her animal friends and to love them. She also was incredibly open minded. She became friends with a tarantula, shudder....I'm afraid of spiders....and several octopusi (NEAT!) as well as the slightly more traditional pets such as several dogs, parakeets, pig, hens, etc. She also had the nerve to fall in love and marry someone her parents didn't approve of, a Jewish guy. They are still married after decades of love. Her parents rejected her after her marriage but she still came to be at their deaths, and suspect other occasions. Her kindness to them and persistence in the face of their close mindedness and cruelty is greater than mine would have been. This is well worth reading. If it deepens even one person's regard for "creatures", it is well worth the read!

  16. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Shoo

    This book was provided by Edelweiss in return for an honest review. Sy Montgomery's ability to humanize animals is incredible. I was reluctant to go with her as she learned a lesson from a tarantula, as I'm terrified of spiders, but even I was charmed by Clarabelle. But it was her later chapters on loss and love that really affected me. Her words on love multiplying and staying with us were poetic. She was even able to make a tentacled octopus, sucking hickeys into her skin humorous and lovable. I This book was provided by Edelweiss in return for an honest review. Sy Montgomery's ability to humanize animals is incredible. I was reluctant to go with her as she learned a lesson from a tarantula, as I'm terrified of spiders, but even I was charmed by Clarabelle. But it was her later chapters on loss and love that really affected me. Her words on love multiplying and staying with us were poetic. She was even able to make a tentacled octopus, sucking hickeys into her skin humorous and lovable. I've already pre-ordered my hard copy of this book. Montgomery's lessons are ones I plan to return to.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Nora

    More than just a pretty face (but what a pretty face!), this gentle, lovely memoir highlights the importance animals can have in our lives, even teaching us more about our own humanity. For Montgomery, they are family, friends, teachers, and guides. There are some delightful experiences shared here, as well as some truly dark times, and Montgomery may even convince you to feel for octopodes and spiders what you feel for dogs and cats.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Katie

    "After Chris and, too soon afterward, Tess had died, the one thing that kept me going was the comforting thought that I could kill myself." This quote perfectly signifies my confusion with this book and what the author is trying to accomplish. This is not so much an exploration of “how to be a good creature” as much as it is a record of the author’s struggles coping with the aging process and subsequent death of the animals she loved. I read through a lot of the reviews trying to understand why e "After Chris and, too soon afterward, Tess had died, the one thing that kept me going was the comforting thought that I could kill myself." This quote perfectly signifies my confusion with this book and what the author is trying to accomplish. This is not so much an exploration of “how to be a good creature” as much as it is a record of the author’s struggles coping with the aging process and subsequent death of the animals she loved. I read through a lot of the reviews trying to understand why everyone gave this five stars, because, to me, it presented little valuable information; it was poorly written, and felt more like the author was trying to work through her feelings about her border collies rather than communicate what she learned from each of these animals. Many reviewers mentioned how much they loved the Montgomery’s book Soul of an Octopus. I haven’t read any of her other books, but it sounds like the same octopus makes an appearance in this book. That was actually my favorite chapter because she details how different octopi are from humans, how intelligent they are, and how much they enjoy playing with us. Maybe I’m not the intended audience for this book. I’m not a longtime fan of the author; I’m not a naturalist or a scientist, but I’ve endured many of my own pets growing old and dying. I think it’s the greatest gift in the world to love a pet and to selflessly give yourself over to their care, particularly in their old age. Animals teach us, in many ways, to cherish life, to love unconditionally, and to recognize the impermanence of our existence. I wish that these concepts would have been discussed more by the author instead of her depression and suicidal thoughts over losing her pets. See more of my reviews: Blog // Instagram

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jeanne

    I've read a few of Sy Montgomery's books before and have enjoyed all of them. This one is a feel good book. With stories of 13 different animals that brought joy to her life, the book can be read in several short sittings. I finished the book with a big smile on my face.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Linda

    As a fan of Sy Montgomery's books about animals, I was delighted to read her memoir. I have had the privilege to see her talk about her books and life on several occasions. This book gave me a better knowledge of her as the person behind her books. What an interesting life she is leading.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Tara

    Couldn’t put it down. A very sweet little read anyone who finds a special place in their heart for animals will appreciate.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Jacqueline

    Great book for anyone who wants to think just a little more deeply about the life of animals and their relationship with humans.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Gwen - Chew & Digest Books -

    I'd call it a memoir to the animals that have touched and molded her life and personality. As another animal lover and someone that is childfree, I can relate on so many angles. Still, her career has meant that she has taken her love, her experiences, and her exposure to different species much further than I ever have or will have. Each animal we have if we allow ourselves to think deeply, teach us something about life. Just as we have our own personalities and ways of facing the world, they have I'd call it a memoir to the animals that have touched and molded her life and personality. As another animal lover and someone that is childfree, I can relate on so many angles. Still, her career has meant that she has taken her love, her experiences, and her exposure to different species much further than I ever have or will have. Each animal we have if we allow ourselves to think deeply, teach us something about life. Just as we have our own personalities and ways of facing the world, they have theirs and it's much less complicated to learn from them than from our friends and family thanks to all of the baggage. We also suffer an extreme loss when they die, more so if we are true animal lovers. Montgomery isn't the only one that has suffered from depression after losing an animal, I know of may, just in my small circle. I think the one animal she had that touched me most was her pig, Christopher Hogwood because his outgoing personality is so unlike mine and I think, unlike Montgomery's. I had a dog like that and still smile when I think of how many people he introduced me to because of his neighborhood wandering antics. One would want to be a lover of animals for this book, other than that, it would make a grand gift since it's almost that most wonderful time of the year. Sigh.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Tisha (IG: Bluestocking629)

    Wow. Just wow. I am not going to lie the only reason I purchased this book was because it was illustrated by Rebecca Green. Then I forgot all about the book. I picked it up not even remembering what it was about. I am so glad I finally read this gem! Incredible! Beautifully written memoir with each chapter dedicated to an animal or a group of animals the author met in her life. We, the reader, not only learn wonderful tidbits about a specific animal but we also learn compassion. The love Ms. Montgo Wow. Just wow. I am not going to lie the only reason I purchased this book was because it was illustrated by Rebecca Green. Then I forgot all about the book. I picked it up not even remembering what it was about. I am so glad I finally read this gem! Incredible! Beautifully written memoir with each chapter dedicated to an animal or a group of animals the author met in her life. We, the reader, not only learn wonderful tidbits about a specific animal but we also learn compassion. The love Ms. Montgomery feels for each animal, even scary spiders and snakes, is outstanding! This book will definitely live in my reread soon pile! P.S. The illustrations were exactly what I expected. Perfect. Especially the emus!

  25. 5 out of 5

    Kirsty

    I really liked the concept of the book, and the illustrations were lovely, but I felt that the execution could have been better. The prose did very little to capture my attention.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Carin

    I've never been an animal nut, in fact I was especially good at my job selecting all the books in PetSmart and Petco for 3 years precisely because at that time I had no pets and so was very unbiased. Along with my husband came first one cat and now two, and I had a couple of cats growing up and my sister had a dog. We even had goldfish for a while. But we've gone long stretches between animals and nothing exotic. So you might think a book like this one wouldn't be for me, but I loved it. It helps I've never been an animal nut, in fact I was especially good at my job selecting all the books in PetSmart and Petco for 3 years precisely because at that time I had no pets and so was very unbiased. Along with my husband came first one cat and now two, and I had a couple of cats growing up and my sister had a dog. We even had goldfish for a while. But we've gone long stretches between animals and nothing exotic. So you might think a book like this one wouldn't be for me, but I loved it. It helps that Ms. Montgomery is unabashed about her animal love. She doesn't hedge it, doesn't overexplain, doesn't defend it. It just is. She's felt an affinity, an empathy for animals even stronger than her feelings for most humans, since the youngest of ages with her family dog, Molly. Every other animal has a shadow of Molly in it. Shortly after college, with her dream job and wonderful boyfriend (now husband), she decided to chuck everything and move to the South Australian Outback for a non-paying research job for 6 months, and ended up following 3 emus pretty obsessively. I've been to South Australia and observed some emus, both in the wild and in an animal sanctuary, and they're pretty hard to identify with. They don't strike one as especially intelligent and are skittish in addition to behaving in a daft manner. That said, Ms. Montgomery makes an excellent argument that each and every animal is smart in their own way that I might not get. I have a lot more respect for emus now, which I didn't think was possible. She then goes on to tell us about 3 more pet dogs, a pet pig (he got up to 750 pounds! If intrigued, read The Good Good Pig. It's excellent and it solely about the pig, with a dash of dog.), a series of octopuses (no, octopi is not correct), tree kangaroos, tarantulas, and a brief but stunning appearance by an ermine. I am not 100% sure but I think this is classified as a children's book. Up until the death of her first pet dog as an adult which sent her into a suicidal depression, I was okay with that classification. She discusses it in a straightforward and not maudlin way but it still might be an unexpected turn of events for someone looking for happy animal stories. Still, death is a part of life, one often learned about through the shorter lifespans of pets, and anyone who reads books about animals regularly can tell you how all of them end. It can absolutely be a fine book for more mature kids down to 10 years old. However, and delightfully, it's also great for adults. It does have cute illustrations throughout, but not in an infantile style. It's beautifully designed and will be a great gift at the holidays for those animal lovers among us, especially the ones who love even the more obscure and possibly icky ones.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Cat

    I love Sy Montgomery's big-hearted books about animals, particularly The Good, Good Pig. This "memoir in thirteen animals" is beautifully illustrated and bittersweet, reflecting on the healing power and enduring wonder of other animals. Montgomery's mother drank heavily and was emotionally and possibly physically abusive. Both of her parents disowned her when she married a Jewish man and refused to enter the military, as her father had done before her. The unconditional love of animal companions I love Sy Montgomery's big-hearted books about animals, particularly The Good, Good Pig. This "memoir in thirteen animals" is beautifully illustrated and bittersweet, reflecting on the healing power and enduring wonder of other animals. Montgomery's mother drank heavily and was emotionally and possibly physically abusive. Both of her parents disowned her when she married a Jewish man and refused to enter the military, as her father had done before her. The unconditional love of animal companions like Stella the border collie and Christopher Hogwood the pig stands in stark contrast with these toxic familial relationships, and Montgomery emphasizes the importance and resilience of relationships that we make instead of those we are born into, so interspecies friendship becomes a model for community and intimacy, even for human neighbors and friends. Montgomery also recognizes the strangeness of animal life, the dramatic difference of their sensory capacities and experiences of the world. She emphasizes this unknowability and beauty in chapters on spiders and octopuses. The thread uniting all of the anecdotes is loss. The brief lives of the animals we encounter remind us of our own finitude and riddle us with grief. Montgomery writes unshrinkingly of her own experiences with depression and suicidal thoughts. But she also uses animals as a spiritual model; her religious faith encompasses their spiritual life, and she emphasizes the sacredness of love that is predicated upon loss--as all love actually is. A beautiful and heartfelt, poignant and often melancholy book, and one that treats animals, not as creatures to be rescued by us, but as teachers who rescue us from our own solipsism and hubris. Physical proximity and touch play such a huge role in this book and remind us of our own needs and interdependence. I read the book aloud with my six-year-old daughter (skipping the chapter where Montgomery considers killing herself), and she was as moved and inspired as I was. Montgomery really captures the individual temperaments and physicality of each of the animals she features in a chapter. And her hushed and reverent experiences of field work in the bush--studying emus and tree kangaroos--are contagious. One of my favorite moments in the memoir is when she finally relinquishes her notebook to feel honored by her closeness with the emus as they sleep, listening closely to the ruffling of their feathers and their grooming, knowing that she is experiencing something that few others would get to approach in the wild.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Alicia

    It's official. I am going to spend the next several months reading EVERYTHING by Sy Montgomery. What started out as some dribs and drabs, I'm full-on obsessed with Montgomery's life, writing, perspective, and scientific curiosity. I learned more about her life in this memoir, but also about animals. Again. And I can't get enough. This book is in pieces almost like a collection of short stories of different animals and lessons she learned or ways the animals helped her, as a whole it paints a por It's official. I am going to spend the next several months reading EVERYTHING by Sy Montgomery. What started out as some dribs and drabs, I'm full-on obsessed with Montgomery's life, writing, perspective, and scientific curiosity. I learned more about her life in this memoir, but also about animals. Again. And I can't get enough. This book is in pieces almost like a collection of short stories of different animals and lessons she learned or ways the animals helped her, as a whole it paints a portrait of a woman in tune with the natural environment and the curiosity that is unrivaled. It's beautifully sentimental in parts even when she's discussing her alcoholic mother or her father's disowning her because she married a Jewish man and their expectations for her coming from a wealthy military family. But she also wanted to be a pony for much of her childhood. She discusses slogging through rainforests to find the tree kangaroo. And the message as a whole: animals teach humans how to be good creatures. The illustrations are complimentary and lovely and adds a whimsical element. Plus those pictures at the end... stellar. If you want to find me, I'll be with the Sy Montgomery books. And I'm in the eastern part of New York State, I'll drive to New Hampshire to hang out with her and her animals any day.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Amalia

    A reminder of the incredible amounts of brilliance, compassion, love, and ferocity that exist in this world, human or not. Sitting here with my parents’ cats, it’s a reminder of the respect and the reverence with which we should treat other living things. In particular, I was inspired by Chris the pig’s wholehearted appreciation for the small (but essential) things in life (food, warm baths, the people that take the time to stroke your hair); moved by the octopus’ intense maternal love and care A reminder of the incredible amounts of brilliance, compassion, love, and ferocity that exist in this world, human or not. Sitting here with my parents’ cats, it’s a reminder of the respect and the reverence with which we should treat other living things. In particular, I was inspired by Chris the pig’s wholehearted appreciation for the small (but essential) things in life (food, warm baths, the people that take the time to stroke your hair); moved by the octopus’ intense maternal love and care for her eggs; and appreciative of the author’s observation, through Tess, that our loved ones, even once departed, can have the effect of increasing our capacity for loving those that come after them. Another aspect of this book that I thought was striking was the author’s unwavering acceptance of the unique perfection of the creatures around her. She loved her first dog for being a dog, not despite of it. It can be a hard principle to apply to people, but it’s a good reminder to practice appreciating others for being simply what they are. This book teaches you not so much about what it means to be human... Species-agnostic, it gives some sweet insights into what it means to live a good life—and how to recognize your teachers.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Kayla

    This book is lovely! Montgomery is a famous science and wildlife writer, and I had flipped through a few books by her when I worked in a school library. This is a memoir about her pets and some of her favorite animal friends she's met during her travels. Her writing style is joyful and observant, which you'd expect from a science writer. Each of the animals she describes were especially interesting to her and taught her different things, leading her to reflect on her own family, feelings of grie This book is lovely! Montgomery is a famous science and wildlife writer, and I had flipped through a few books by her when I worked in a school library. This is a memoir about her pets and some of her favorite animal friends she's met during her travels. Her writing style is joyful and observant, which you'd expect from a science writer. Each of the animals she describes were especially interesting to her and taught her different things, leading her to reflect on her own family, feelings of grief, and the process of aging and changing. I especially loved her stories about her friendly pig Christopher, the delicate tarantula Clarabelle, and the curious octopus Octavia. I teared up often, as she expresses grief for the old and dying animals in her life, as I feel grief when I think about beloved family pets and my old kitty. I'm so glad I didn't just flip through the illustrations like I had intended but delved into Montgomery's touching stories.

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