When I first met Jon, he handed me a galley of his book, A Good Dog, and asked me to read it and let him know what I thought.
A life long reader and lover of books, I was excited at the idea of reading a book before it was published and getting to talk to the author about it. I remember being shocked that he had put Orson down, although, because of the way he wrote about it, I completely understood why he did it. I also thought he was very brave to be so open about it. I could remember thinking that I’d be terrified to do such a thing.
That was many books ago and since then I’ve read all of Jon’s books as he writes them.
When we were just friends and I was working out of the Studio Barn on Old Bedlam Farm, he would knock on the door, (he still knocks on my studio door) and hand me copies of a chapter. I’d take the chapter to my pink chair, sit down and read. Then I’d tell him what I liked about it, how it made me feel or the thoughts it provoked.
I didn’t care about grammar or spelling, (it was usually a first draft) and only later in our relationship, when I knew the animals he was writing about would I tell him of any kind of corrections to things like names or dates. (Jon and I are careful to have good boundaries around our work.)
But that pattern of reading Jon’s chapters as he writes them has changed. When he was writing Talking to Animals I only read one of two of the chapters. I’m not sure why it’s changed. Maybe he trusts himself more or it’s that now he has a professional freelance editor who he shows his chapters to.
Whatever the reason, I have to say I enjoyed reading the galley of Talking to Animals, as a whole book, without knowing what would be in it.
It’s easy to get too close to any work of art and not be able to “see” it anymore. And I think that would sometimes happen with me and Jon’s books.
So this weekend I picked up a galley of Talking to Animals and read it all for the first time. I was excited to read it, I wasn’t sure what to expect.
Although I did have some expectations. For some reason, even though it’s not the way Jon’s writes or thinks, I had the idea that it would be more of a “How To” book. Of course, as I read the book, I knew that expectation made no sense. Even Jon’s books about training dogs are not written that way.
What I did get from the book was an overall conviction of how important it is, not just for pets and animal owners and their animals, but for all animals on the earth, for us, human beings, to really understand animals, how they live and what they need.
As with Jon’s other books, Talking to Animals is told through stories. True stories from Jon’s experience with animals. And it speaks of communicating with them through images and intentions as well as food and repetition. And about how to listen and hear them. Through Jon’s experiences the reader gets to see how it all works.
The book makes clear, that the importance of communicating with animals is not so much to get them to do what we want them to do (although this is often crucial in whether or not we can all live together) but so that we can understand each other enough to make it possible for us to all live in the same home, on the same street, in the same neighborhood, on the same earth.
Jon has written a lot about the Carriage Horses in NYC and I’ve read everything he has written about them. But his chapter Saving the Animals has a freshness to it. He uses the conflict to speak directly to the idea of understanding, listening and talking to animals.
“It’s about an attitude of the heart. The animals need us. Their most elemental right is the right to survive on the earth, and our most elemental task is to understand them well enough to know how to make that happen.
If we ask them, they will tell us”
Over all I found the book beautiful. The stories are strung together with the gentleness and honesty, decision making, thoughtfulness and love that Jon brings to his life with animals.
And I’m drawn to the idea that words and language may be the least effective ways of communicating with our animals.
It makes sense, since they understand so few of them and we rely on them so much.
It’s not just about them understanding us, but us understanding them and their needs and how they communicate. And since we’re the ones with most of the power, it’s our responsibility to do right by them. For their sake and ours.
I have 4 tote bags and 10 potholders that I’m giving to Connie at Battenkill Books to give away, by her means of distribution, to people who preorder Talking To Animals. Connie’s also giving away an Indie Books tote bag to everyone who preorders the book. So you’re sure to get something for free when you preorder Jon’s book even if it isn’t one of my totes or potholders.
You can preorder Talking to Animals, by Jon Katz here, on the Battenkill Books website or by calling Battenkill books at 518 677-2515.