The first book I ever wrote was called Herbert the Near-sighted Pigeon, which was produced in an edition of one and distributed on the kitchen table to my parents. I was five years old. Since then, I’ve returned to the subject of animals again and again. I am endlessly curious about what their lives are like and how we live with them, and I’m fascinated by how we navigate the fuzzy, puzzling divide between wild and tame.
On Animals is a collection of my favorites of those pieces. They range from stories about lions to tigers to panda bears and beyond; profiles of dogs and donkeys; meditations on what it’s like to raise chickens and care for whales. These are stories about animals that star in movies and animals that go to war and animals that are celebrated for being beautiful.
I think I’ll always have animals and I think I’ll always write about them. Their unknowability challenges me. Our affection for them intrigues me. I try to resist the urge to anthropomorphize them, but I do think animals know something we don’t about living simply and purely. I’m happy to be in their company.
The Library Book
I grew up in libraries, or so it seems. My mother and I would take regular trips to the branch library near my house at least twice a week, and those trips were enchanted. The very air in the library seemed charged with possibility and imagination; books seem to have their own almost human vitality.
But over time, I had become more of a book buyer than a book borrower, and I had begun to forget how magical libraries are. I never stopped loving libraries, but they receded in my mind, and seemed like a piece of my past.
And then I started taking my own son to the library, and I was reminded instantly and vividly of how much libraries had meant to me, how formative they were to my love of reading and writing, and how much they mean to us as a culture. The next thing I knew, I was investigating the largest library fire in the history of the United States. The life and times and near-death experience of the Los Angeles Public Library was a story that felt urgent to tell, and gave me a chance to pay tribute to these marvelous places that have been such an essential part of my life.
Rin Tin Tin
When I was very young, my grandfather kept a Rin Tin Tin figurine sitting on his desk. I wanted desperately to play with it, and even more desperately I wanted to have a German shepherd dog of my own, a dog just like the star of “The Adventures of Rin-Tin-Tin”, which debuted on television in 1954. I knew nothing about Rin Tin Tin other than that he was the perfect dog, and that he was a character on television. When by chance I learned that Rin Tin Tin was a real dog, not just a television character — a real dog with a real life that was extraordinary — I was drawn into the story and eventually to the idea of writing this book.
Two decades have passed since I wrote this book, which documents the experience of Saturday night in two dozen communities across the United States. Now, more than 20 years later, I’ve followed up with the many people and places from the book to see where they are today. This new edition of Saturday Night includes all the text of the original book plus an afterward that reflects on the changes that have come to pass—and also how some things, surprisingly, stay the same.
The Orchid Thief
In 1994, I headed down to Florida to investigate the story of John Laroche, an eccentric plant dealer who had been arrested along with a crew of Seminoles for poaching rare orchids out of the a South Florida swamp. I never imagined that I would end up spending the next two years shadowing Laroche and exploring the odd, passionate world of orchid fanatics.
And lots more on the book page »
Greetings, and welcome. I’m an author, a staff writer for The New Yorker, a dog owner, a gardener, a parent, a frequent lecturer/speaker, an occasional teacher, a very occasional guest editor, a once-in-a-blue-moon movie inspiration, and doodler. I’ve written a lot of books, and even more magazine articles. Please click around, read the news archives, and come see me in person.
Book Tour and Events
Maybe you can catch me talking about my newest book, On Animals, this Fall, or my book about libraries at a library or bookstore near you. Please check my events page for the complete list of my appearances.
Dauphin County Library System
The Next Chapter Book Club
Articles I’ve written
For recent articles, visit my New Yorker contributor profile.
Thinking in the Rain, The New Yorker, February 11 & 18, 2008
The Steve Hollinger experience can be described most simply as multimedia. For one thing, it includes olfactory surprises. My apartment was right above Steve’s for several years, and on a regular basis he would call to warn me about odors that might waft their way from the second floor, where he lived, to my apartment on the third. Once in a while, the warning was about something he’d be cooking, but often it was more unexpected …
The Origami Lab, The New Yorker, February 19, 2007
One of the few Americans to see action during the Bug Wars of the nineteen-nineties was Robert J. Lang, a lanky Californian who was on the front lines throughout, from the battle of the Kabutomushi Beetle to the battle of the Menacing Mantis and the battle of the Long-Legged Wasp. Most combatants in the Bug Wars — which were, in fact, origami contests — were members of the Origami Detectives, a group of artists in Japan who liked to try outdoing one another with extreme designs of assigned subjects …
And many more in the article archive »