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Book Review of: Ask Now the Beasts

Our Kinship with Animals Wild and Domestic

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Review of Ask Now the Beasts, by Ruth Rudner ( 2007)

(You can print this review in landscape mode, if you want a hardcopy)

Reviewer: Mark Lamendola, author of over 6,000 articles.

This book is a collection of 23 short essays. Each essay is about a particular experience the author had. As the title suggest, these experiences involve animals. The animals in this book include dogs, horses, and cats--familiar to any reader. But then there were the more exotic animals, such as penguins and walruses that she encountered in Antarctica. Other animals that appeared in her essays include gorillas, mules, coyotes, hawks, ducks, and wolves.

Two things about the author become apparent right away.

First, she's an accomplished writer. Her grammar is flawless (such an oddity, these days), her composition is clear, and her writing style is engaging. This is perhaps why her work has appeared in several major newspapers and magazines, and perhaps why she has other books to her credit.

The second thing is her respect for animals. For example, she respects horses as individuals. None of the essays revolve around generalized notions, such as "love the planet." All of them revolve around Runder's thoughts and feelings in her encounters with various individual animals. Some of these were domestic, some were wild. All were respected.

In many of the essays, Rudner reveals a lesson the animal taught her. In others, she just observes without feeling a need to draw any lesson at all. Some of the essays are quite touching, for example when Rudner reveals the joy of holding a baby gorilla or when she fondly recalls her special relationship with her dog Blue.

A few of the essays are sad, as when Rudner shares her heartache over losing two horses during a summer storm. She ponders how an animal can be living and vital one minute, and simply dead the next.

Rudner frequently talks about the relationship between life and death, and how they are intertwined. She observed this in such brutal environments as Antarctica and in such familiar environments as her own backyard.

Another thing that Rudner frequently talks about is personally connecting with the animals she encounters. She sees them as the living, feeling creatures that they are. And knowing this, they respond to her. If you are the kind of person who orders the family dog about, you won't understand this. If, on the other hand, you are the kind of person who interacts with that dog and understands exactly what the dog is saying to you, then you also understand the kinship theme that underlies these essays.

If you are that first person, consider this book essential for your personal growth. If you approach it with open eyes, what you learn could enrich your life on many levels.

If you are that second person, you will enjoy this book because it will resonate with you. It'll probably bring back memories of your own wonderful interactions with the animals you've encountered. In my case, I fondly recalled the time I was tending my garden and a robin hen perched only a few feet from me. She looked right at me and sang one lovely song after another. I sat quietly and listened. Perhaps you have had similar encounters of your own.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book.



About these reviews

You may be wondering why the reviews here are any different from the hundreds of "reviews" posted online. Notice the quotation marks?

I've been reviewing books for sites like Amazon for many years now, and it dismays me that Amazon found it necessary to post a minimum word count for reviews. It further dismays me that it's only 20 words. If that's all you have to say about a book, why bother?

And why waste everyone else's time with such drivel? As a reader of such reviews, I feel like I am being told that I do not matter. The flippancy of people who write these terse "reviews" is insulting to the authors also, I would suspect.

This sound bite blathering taking the place of any actual communication is increasingly a problem in our mindless, blog-posting Webosphere. Sadly, Google rewards such pointlessness as "content" so we just get more if this inanity.

My reviews, contrary to current (non) standards, actually tell you about the book. I always got an "A" on a book review I did as a kid (that's how I remember it anyhow, and it's my story so I'm sticking to it). A book review contains certain elements and has a logical structure. It informs the reader about the book.

A book review may also tell the reader whether the reviewer liked it, but revealing a reviewer's personal taste is not necessary for an informative book review.

About your reviewer

  • Books are a passion of mine. I read dozens of them each year, plus I listen to audio books.
  • Most of my "reading diet" consists of nonfiction. I think life is too short to use your limited reading time on material that has little or no substance. That leads into my next point...
  • In 1990, I stopped watching television. I have not missed it. At all.
  • I was first published as a preteen. I wrote an essay, and my teacher submitted it to the local paper.
  • For six years, I worked as an editor for a trade publication. I left that job in 2002, and still do freelance editing and authoring for that publication (and for other publications).
  • No book has emerged from my mind onto the best-seller list. So maybe I'm presumptuous in judging the work of others. Then again, I do more describing than judging in my reviews. And I have so many articles now published that I stopped counting them at 6,000. When did I stop? Probably 20,000 articles ago! (It's been a while).
  • I have an engineering degree and an MBA, among other "quant" degrees. That helps explain my methodical approach toward reviews.
  • You probably don't know anybody who has made a perfect or near perfect score on a test of Standard Written English. I have. So, a credential for whatever it's worth.

About reading style

No, I do not "speed read" through these. That said, I do read at a fast rate. But, in contrast to speed reading, I read everything when I read a book for review.

Speed reading is a specialized type of reading that requires skipping text as you go. Using this technique, I've been able to consistently "max out" a speed reading machine at 2080 words per minute with 80% comprehension. This method is great if you are out to show how fast you can read. But I didn't use it in graduate school and I don't use it now. I think it takes the joy out of reading, and that pleasure is a big part of why I read.

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