Beginning with Yuka, a 39,000-year-old mummified woolly mammoth recently found in the Siberian permafrost, each of the sixteen essays in Animals Strike Curious Poses investigates a different famous animal named and immortalised by humans. Here are the starling that inspired Mozart with its song, Darwin's tortoise Harriet, and in an extraordinary essay, Jumbo the elephant (and how they tried to electrocute him). Modelled loosely on a medieval bestiary, these witty , playful, provocative essays traverse history, myth, science and more, introducing a stunning new writer to British readers.
1. Yuka (Mammuthus primigenius), 39000BP
2. The Wolf of Gubbio (Canis lupus), 1220
3. Ganda (Rhinoceros unicornis), 1515
4. Sackerson (Ursus arctos arctos), 1601
5. Jeoffry (Felis catus), 1760
6. Vogel Staar (Sturnus vulgaris), 1784
7. Barry (Canis familiaris), 1814
8. Harriet (Geochelone nigra porteri), 1835-2006
9. War Pigs (Columba livia domestica), 1870-2014
10. Jumbo (Loxodonta africana), 1885
11. Four Horsemen (Equus caballus), 1901-2012
12. Mike (Gallus gallus), 1948
13. Pigasus (Sus scrofa domesticus), 1968
14. Arabella (Areneus diadematus), 1973
15. Osama (Crocodylus niloticus), 2003
16. Cecil (Panthera leo bleyenberghi), 2015
Elena Passarello is an actor, writer and recipient of a 2015 Whiting Fellowship in non-fiction. Her first collection of essays, Let Me Clear My Throat, won the gold medal for nonfiction at the 2013 Independent Publisher Awards. Her essays on performance, pop culture and the natural world have appeared in Oxford American, Slate, Creative Nonfiction and the Iowa Review. She lives in Corvallis, Oregon.
"I've spent decades reading books on the roles animals play in human cultures, but none have ever made me think, and feel, as much as this one. It's a devastating meditation on our relationship to the natural world. It might be the best book on animals I've ever read. It's also the only one that's made me laugh out loud."
– Helen Macdonald, New York Times Book Review
"Stunning [...] Passarello's keen wit is on display throughout as she raises questions about the uniqueness of humans [...] A feast of surprising juxtapositions and gorgeous prose."
– Publishers Weekly, starred review
"This phenomenal collection documents the lives of particular animals from a wide range of species [...] Passarello treats her subjects with dextrous care, weaving narratives together in a way that investigates, honors, and complicates her subjects [...] Passarello has created a consistently original, thoroughly researched, altogether fascinating compendium."
– Booklist, starred review
"I've spent decades reading books on the roles animals play in human cultures, but none have ever made me think, and feel, as much as this one. It's a devastating meditation on our relationship to the natural world. It might be the best book on animals I've ever read. It's also the only one that's made me laugh out loud [...] The formal exuberance of this modern bestiary is exhilarating [...] Animals Strike Curious Poses speaks of and for the voiceless hordes with whom we share the earth, shows us how we make sense of them and, crucially, how they make sense for us [...] This is a book with burning current relevance [...] It gives one hope that we humans might not be so lonely after all."
– The New York Times Book Review, Editor's Choice
"The essays in Elena Passarello's Animals Strike Curious Poses are technically about animals you'll find in history books, but really they're about the worlds the creatures inhabit and the ways people intersect with them. That, and they're fiercely fun."
– Marie Claire, featured interview
"Passarello is brilliant, and these essays [...] will not disappoint in quirkiness, intelligence, and delight."
– Martha Stewart Living, "Page-Turners for 2017"
"Packed with an assortment of facts, myths, and unexpected connections, each of the book's essays is a deeply researched ride that presents an almost staggering amount of information. But the essays are also highly playful [...] Throughout, Passarello works as a sort of critical ringmaster, announcing both the sideshow act and our short-sighted desire for it. She entertains as she exhibits our missteps, and points to the ways we project onto – and define ourselves in relation to – animals."
– Portland Mercury
"In Animals Strike Curious Poses Elena Passarello spins fantastic, wondrous, and true tall tales about species big and small. Her essays are dream-spaces of imagery and ideas [...] This book will leave little doubt that Passarello is one our country's most gifted young prose writers."
– Hector Tobar, New York Times bestselling author of Deep Down Dark and The Barbarian Nurseries
"Animals Strike Curious Poses turns the bestiary inside out, holds the mummified mammoth heart up against our own, and, from the braided ventricles, springboards into intoxicating and animated meditations on our penchant for ownership via naming, our drive to saddle the world and its creatures with our weary, ponderous patronymics, and the attendant and cockeyed faux-fame. This book is a gift to us from one of the best, most important, and most exciting essayists of the 21st century."
– Matthew Gavin Frank, author of The Mad Feast and Preparing the Ghost: An Essay Concerning the Giant Squid and Its First Photographer
"Let's face it: animals are interesting, words are interesting. Put them together in arresting match-ups – Mozart and starling, Darwin and refugee tortoise, spider and astronaut, gorilla and lexicon, 'endling' and genetic futurist – as Passarello does in this delicious collection, and you get a gorgeous picture of a curious mind engaged beyond self-interest. As she digs around in the animal images buried inside us, she finds that 'It is as if every animal a human brain has ever seen, it has swallowed.' And we get to share here this fine and nourishing meal, artfully prepared, with her playful intelligence for company at the table. I am now forever in love with starlings and spiders and [...] "
– Alison Hawthorne Deming, author of Zoologies
"Passarello is resplendent in her encyclopedic knowledge of natural history with a fierce and feral intelligence. Mammoth hunting, spiders in space, the last living tortoise from the Darwin expedition – the magnificent animal essays in this utterly absorbing collection shimmer with complexities about human nature with extraordinary depth and music. The end result is simply superb – a must for anyone who values wisdom served up with verve and a genuine adoration for the creatures with which we share this flawed and dazzling world."
– Aimee Nezhukumatathil
"Elena Passarello's wildly inventive, meticulously-rendered meditations are their own kind of perfect animal. This is a hair-raisingly beautiful book."
– Amy Fusselman
"What Rachel Carson called 'the problem of sharing our earth with other creatures' is still one of the most pressing problems of our time, but only a few individual creatures are known to all of us by name. Elena Passarello's witty, insightful, exquisite essays reintroduce us to these famous animals, and find new meaning in their fascinating stories."
– Michelle Nijhuis, writer for National Geographic and blogger for The New Yorker
"Without bringing herself into the telling directly, Elena Passarello hovers above the little moment in history with wise wonder. She is writing in ways that are unique – and fearless. There's nobody else that sounds like her, or is doing what she's doing. When she looks at something she finds interesting, she says, 'Let me see what's down that road!' And she runs down that road as fast as she can."
– The Whiting Foundation