Books, Books and More Books
I love writing shorter pieces for magazines, but nothing quite compares to the first time you get assigned a Library of Congress catalog number. Or the second time. Or, in my case, the eighth time. I’ve also contributed to a number of other books. Click on the covers or title of each book for more info.
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 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.
The life and times of a girl who has always loved animals, or how I went from dreaming about Rin Tin Tin to having dogs, cats, chickens, fish, cattle, turkeys, and guinea fowl, with guest appearances by horses, lions, and canaries. Available as a Kindle Single from Amazon.com.
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. I certainly never imagined that I would willingly hike through the swamps of South Florida — but that’s what writing a book does to you. I found myself as passionate about the project as the orchid fanatics were about their flowers, and that is ultimately what the book is about.
After collecting my favorite profiles for Bullfighter, I decided to gather the pieces I’d written in which “place” was the protagonist. These certainly aren’t typical travel pieces — you will find no hotel or restaurant suggestions, that’s for sure — but in each one, I felt the sense of where the story unfolded was almost as important as the story itself.
I couldn’t be prouder of my dog — after all, besides being handsome, occasionally obedient, good at barking, and essentially noble, he’s a damn good writer. Although left to his own devices he will eat literally anything, Cooper exhibits a little more discretion in this cookbook.
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.
Of all my books, Lazy Little Loafers has had the most interesting backstory. I originally wrote the text as a humor piece for the New Yorker under the title “Shiftless Little Loafers” (Shouts & Murmurs, July 22, 2006). I meant it to convey the cranky, slightly churlish tone of a probably childless narrator complaining about how babies seem to get away with murder.
This is a collection of my favorite profile pieces, most of which were first published in the New Yorker, with a few from Rolling Stone, Esquire, and Outside. The subjects range from the well-known (Bill Blass) to the unknown (a ten-year-old kid) to the formerly known (the 1960s girl group The Shaggs). Also included are a dozen Talk of the Town pieces. One of the pieces in the book, “The Maui Surfer Girls”, was the basis of the movie Blue Crush.
My editor at the Boston Globe, Ande Zellman, asked me to write a column for the Sunday magazine defining the character of the region. Since I was from the Midwest and found New England strange and fascinating, I grabbed the assignment and wrote the column for a year, choosing a different strange and fascinating New Englandism (for instance, the use of the word ‘wicked’; the New England boiled dinner; the wretchedly incompetent driving) to analyze each week. The week I wrote my last column (I was about to move to New York, so it seemed like a good time to bow out) a small publisher interested in collecting the columns into a book contacted me. It was a great way to end the year and leave New England.