Feb 1, 2011

Animal Attractions

A Tribute to the Love Between People and Animals
edited by Diana Edkins

Rather like the previous two books I read these last few days, Animal Attractions is a mostly pictorial work with a few brief essays about the connections we share with other species (particularly cats and dogs). For the most part, this is a really beautiful book. The presented photographs, by a myriad of world-renowned artists, are absolutely beautiful. They depict many sorts of animals. Not just cats and dogs but also chickens, horses, goats, pigs, cows, parrots, elephants, sheep, chimpanzees, a rabbit and a few snakes. The only disappointment I have with the book is (again) the writing. The introduction by Diane Ackerman is eloquent and thoughtful, and really made me anticipate more of the same quality. But there are only three other essays in the book, and they all fell flat for me. The one about cats just tells about the different cats one woman owned throughout her life. The one focused on dogs was a bit more interesting but still, just about one guy's dog and how amazing his personality and intelligence was. The final essay, by Peter Beard "on population pressure and the plight of wild animals" really confused me. It was several very long sentences listing atrocities mankind has wrecked upon the earth (and ourselves). Shall I give you a sample?

Yes, this could be known as the century when all of us sanctimonious, anthrophomorphic, bleeding hearts from Walt Disney country, "man kind" pushed by excessive densities and stress and innumerable stress-related horrors- all echoes of Dr. Strangelove- hugging darling Dumbo- "buy an elephant a drink"- desperate disillusioned adults displaying infantile regression longing for their nursery pets- obsessive avoidance of their own natural aggressiveness- Sigmund Freud- Charles Darwin- Thomas Malthus- Dr. Norman Borlaug- from the biolabs in Bangladesh to the Calhoun rat study cages in Bethesda, Maryland: "separation of the sexes," "territorial neuroses"- heart disease from stress and pollution, competition from diminishing resources, cancer, HIV, personality disorders, hormone screw-ups, a sharp decline in tolerable human behavior- Somalia, Rwanda, Zaire, Mozambique, South Africa, Bosnia; and beyond- Hate and Blame- genocide, knife rape, kidnapping, incest, serial killing... we are literally going crazy, breaking the back of Nature, pressuring, squeezing, forcing our gross intrusion beyond the point of no return.... e.g. East Africa after a century of missionary manipulations: endless slum squalor, AID and AIDS, lost heritage, lost identity, corrugated iron, crime, pollution, garbage everywhere, tribal clashes, army rule, torture, assassinations, voodoo, overpopulation, unemployment, rape, rap, gangrenous graffiti, occasionally an open air zoo; tourism! - highway robbery.

Phew! That's one sentence. I looked very carefully. There's loads of commas, at least two ellipses, semicolons, colons and more dashes than my brain can process (can you do that all in the same sentence? isn't there some kind of rule?) Please tell me if you make sense of that. Because I don't. Maybe it's just the way Beard writes; horrors if I ever opened a book of his! Although I really shouldn't say that, I do have his End of the Game  on my TBR, which I once perused in a bookstore and it was quite comprehensible, none of this jumble. So I really don't know what happened here.

It just made my head spin. The Beard essay, I mean (though the end of it was more readable). Overall I was surprised at the unevenness of writing quality in this book. Which is really a shame, as the photographs are so outstanding. I recommend it just to look at, if you like fine-art of books that feature animals.

Rating: 4/5 ........ 132 pages, 1995

2 comments:

bermudaonion said...

The photo on the cover is adorable - too bad the essays are flat.

Jeane said...

I read it again last night- and was disappointed to find that even more of the book fell flat for me. The quality of the photography is uneven, and it just didn't enthrall me as the first time around. I don't think this one's a keeper for me.