Monday, November 11, 2013

Book Review: The Urban Bestiary: Encountering the Everyday Wild by Lyanda Lynn Haupt

The Urban Bestiary caught my attention first because I liked the title--Could it be more alluring?--and then because I realized I had readLyanda Lynn Haupt's Crow Planetand, later, her Rare Encounters with Ordinary Birds and been impressed by her ability to find beauty in the ordinary and the every day. That love shows through The Urban Bestiary as well, where she describes the habit and habitat of three major categories of wild life found in the city: The furred, the feathered, and the branching and the rooted, as represented by a small number of their kind found in most cities.

Haupt writes that she has chosen the bestiary for her form because in a "bestiary, we cross the threshold into a world in which our imaginations, our art, our bodies, our science, our mythology, all have an exuberant place" (9). Still, the book largely stays with the observed and observable in our world with only a few myths creeping in around the edges. The world of footprints is a world where Haupt feels comfortable and where her writing excels; the world of myth is, it seems, not quite such familiar territory. Also, alas, there are few pictures, and those are black and white. A bestiary really should have pictures, preferably lots of them, and definitely in color.

I did learn a fair bit, reading this, though whether I'll remember is a different matter (and not Haupt's responsibility). Almost every chapter had at least one spot where I said "I did not know that!" Haupt's desire for humans and wild life to co-exist is strong and apparent, sometimes slightly repetitive. In each chapter, she includes a plea not just for tolerance but for wonder, even when the animals end up inconveniently eating our plants or scaring us. She also often includes a somewhat exasperated plea for common sense arrangements for sharing cities; she repeats the importance of not leaving pets out when coyotes are around, for chaining trash cans shut where there are bears, and for considering what wild animals live in vast open areas before keeping horses.

I will keep my eyes open for future Haupt books.


  1. I think I must must must read this. Plus the other books she's written, too! It sounds like just the thing I love.