Sigrid Nunez's 6 favorite books that feature animals

The award-winning author recommends works by Virginia Woolf, Helen Macdonald, and more

Sigrid Nunez.
(Image credit: Marion Ettlinger)

My Dog Tulip by J.R. Ackerley (NYRB Classics, $14).

A single man in late middle age unexpectedly acquires a beautiful but badly behaved German shepherd. She becomes the love of his life, the ideal companion he'd all but given up hope of ever finding. Truman Capote called this memoir "one of the greatest books ever written by anybody in the world." Agreed.

Alex & Me by Irene M. Pepperberg (Harper Perennial, $14).

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Alex is the African gray parrot famous for achieving a level of cognitive and communicative skill that had been thought impossible for a nonhuman. Pepperberg is the scientist who nurtured and taught him. This memoir of their 30-year collaboration is a captivating story about a unique human-animal bond.

H Is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald (Grove, $16).

This enthralling and inventive book was born out of grief. As part of her response to the sudden death of her father, Macdonald threw herself into the famously difficult undertaking of training a goshawk. Part nature writing, part personal history, part literary criticism, it's an utterly original work — almost a new genre.

Flush: A Biography by Virginia Woolf (Mariner, $20).

Probably the great novelist's least-read work today, this mock biography of English poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning's cocker spaniel was an instant best-seller in 1933. Written as a relaxation after the hard labor Woolf invested in The Waves, the novella includes, among other delights, marvelous descriptions, from a canine point of view, of London and Florence during the Victorian era.

The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide (New Directions, $15).

In this lyrical, gently meditative tale, a childless couple living in a guesthouse on a Tokyo estate find their lives and their marriage transformed by the daily visits of their neighbors' irresistible cat.

Animals in Translation by Temple Grandin and Catherine Johnson (Harvest, $16).

Who'd have thought a book with the subtitle Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior would turn out to be a page-turner? I found this brilliantly insightful and engaging study both an education in the way animals think and feel and a serious reading pleasure.

— In Sigrid Nunez's latest novel, The Friend, a writing professor inherits a large, sloppy dog that belonged to a mentor who committed suicide.

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