Thursday, June 1, 2017

This Side of Wild (Gary Paulsen)

This Side of Wild: Mutts, Mares, and Laughing Dinosaurs
Gary Paulsen
Simon and Schuster
Nonfiction, YA Animals
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: Popular author Gary Paulsen reflects on animal encounters through his life, from the dog Gretchen (who would hold long "conversations" over cups of bitter-dark coffee) to the toy poodle Corky (who proved unexpectedly brave against Alaskan grizzlies), not to mention his ongoing, frequently contentious relationship with ravens.

REVIEW: This is an interesting, if sometimes meandering, collection of stories demonstrating the intelligence, playfulness, and occasional spite of all manner of animals. In his observations, he comes to agree with a conclusion reached by an animal trainer friend of his: we do not train animals, but animals train us, having far more awareness and agency than humans like to credit to them. Paulsen sees how even wild animals learn to manipulate humans, in memorable encounters at a highway rest stop and on a desert horseback ride. He also offers glimpses into his long and colorful life, not to mention a brief detour into the true horrors of nuclear warfare, as part of his military training introduced him to facts that were deliberately withheld from the general population on warhead lethality. (It's Gretchen, the dog who appeared to have figured out a way to hold wordless talks with her people, who helps him deal with this troubling knowledge.) As usual, I enjoyed Paulsen's writing style, though the chapters sometimes wavered and wandered in their focus. Overall, though, it's an interesting collection of animal encounters, mostly domestic but a few wild, that can be enjoyed by somewhat older children and adults alike. (Some of the material is a little graphic for very young or sensitive readers.)

You Might Also Enjoy:
All Creatures Great and Small (James Herriot) - My Review
Animal Wise (Virginia Morell) - My Review
Guts (Gary Paulsen) - My Review

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