WWB Book Wise Club

World Wise Beauty Selects a Newly Released Memoir, ‘How to Be a Good Creature: A Memoir in Thirteen Animals’ for the Book Wise Fall Pick


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Lauroly (Laura Connolly) Opening: Welcome Sy Montgomery to World Wise Beauty. After reading your beautiful memoir and learning more about your background I can say without question you are a true World Wise Beauty. You are comfortable in your own skin and also perfectly fine with letting creatures of all kinds on this planet be comfortable in theirs. What came through for me is how you unconditionally accepted each animal and creature you came to know, study, research and love. I felt a kinship with you because I have always felt every living thing has a beauty and purpose here on earth. Each living being has its own nature and is just doing what it is meant to do here on earth. Be. I am a self professed animal lover, but I believe your memoir will touch and enlighten even the every day dog and cat lover. As one of the endorsements on your book said  “the book stands as a vivid reminder of the deep and necessary connection we share with all living things”.

I also think it teaches us how other living creatures bond with us and need us. My favorite word is inter-dependency and when I read your book, it kept popping into my brain. From pigs to dogs, to tree kangaroos, to octopus, you have been a good friend, steward, and caretaker to so many animals. What you impress upon us in an honest way, is these animals were also guides, companions, and teachers for you. There is so much insightful wisdom in your memoir and I thank you for writing it and sharing it with us.

I am honored to select ‘How to Be a Good Creature’: A Memoir in Thirteen Animals as the Fall 2018 ‘Book Wise’ pick.

good creature cover


Lauroly Q: Let’s start with the title of your book. One of the things you said in the opening of your book is “Knowing someone who belongs to another species can enlarge your soul in surprising ways.” Can you tell us more about the title and what it means to you?

Sy Montgomery: WOW!  First let me say, thank you so much for selecting my book! The title came from a reply to a question I was asked by a friend. Vicki Croke, the author of several bestselling books (her latest is Elephant Company) interviewed me for a show on animals for a local NPR station. We spoke of tigers and tarantulas, pink dolphins and octopuses, snow leopards and tree kangaroos. Finally, at the end of the interview, she asked one last question: What had the animals I met taught me in terms of lessons about my life? My answer was: “How to be a good creature” and these words became the title for this book. It’s a memoir in 13 individual animals and the lessons taught to me by four dogs, three emus, two tree kangaroos, an ermine, a tarantula, an octopus and a pig. Each became a teacher to me, showing me how to find and fulfill my destiny, create a loving family, cope with loss, and fall in love again and again with this sweet green earth. 

Lauroly Q:  Great answer! There are teaches all around us in nature. I’m glad you mentioned family. You were honest about your parents in the book. As much as you loved them, they were not perfectly content allowing you to be you. Like many parents, they had expectations and an idea of who they thought you should be. I appreciated how you said “ I would never trade my parents for any other, as without them I would have been someone else, someone perhaps not as determined.” What a wonderful way to process things. You also talked about not really wanting children, and yet what is so touching about your story is the animals in your life became your family. Did it surprise you to have maternal feelings about your farm animals and pets?

 Sy Montgomery: The reason I never wanted children was because as a child, I learned that human overpopulation was the primary factor driving the current plague of environmental disasters, which it still is.  It seemed to me, even when I was a child that NOT having children was very easy to do, and by doing this I would help save the world for the children of all species already in it, who all deserve a clean, spacious, safe place to live. Feeling maternal toward baby animals is the most natural thing in the world, because in the case of infants—hatchling chicks, a baby pig, and our puppy Thurber—I really had to stand in for a time as their mother. But I did not feel maternal toward the adult animals in my life—not at all. I loved them, but not as a mother loves a child. Instead I loved them as a student loves a teacher. Once an animal attains adulthood, as Henry Beston wrote, they are, unlike a child, “not underlings” but “finished and complete” and I respected them as fully adult beings who perceived and understood things I did not. 

Lauroly Q: If only we all could think in such a highly evolved way as you do. If you could pick one animal encounter from your world travels, which one changed how you looked at the world and changed your perspective about life in general? Or perhaps it was just a spiritual experience that stayed with you. I know this is a hard one as you wrote your memoir focused on 13 beautiful connections with animals. As a reader, I loved each and every one of them. Yet I was really amazed by your work with the Octopus named Octavia and I can only imagine how magical and other worldly it was.

Sy Montgomery:  Yes, I think you picked wisely. Octavia, because she was an octopus—a mollusk related to clams and snails—was the most alien and otherworldly of my friends, and it was trans-formative to learn that I could be friends with someone who could taste with their skin, change color and shape, and pour their baggy, boneless body through an opening the size of an orange. Yet I could. This flung open the world for me. Most animals on earth are invertebrates, and most of them live in the sea. Though I called myself a naturalist, until Octavia, I really didn’t know any invertebrates well enough to really consider them friends. And though most of the world is ocean, before I learned SCUBA, I was almost 100 percent terrestrial. Octavia inspired me to get certified as a diver, which provided an intimacy I had never before enjoyed with the sea. But also, by letting me be her friend, Octavia connected me more closely than ever before to the beating heart of the planet.

Lauroly Closing: Reading your story about the Octavia in the book, makes me want to go back and read your book ‘The Soul of an Octopus’  which was a NYT bestseller and honored as a finalist for the 2015 National Book Award in the nonfiction category. I hope after reading your new book people will discover other books you have written as well. I can’t think of more flattering endorsements than these two from prominent award winning newspapers you have received, but I will add mine with great appreciation. Thank you for your deep wisdom and your life long work Sy. We need your voice now more than ever, as our environment is suffering, and because we have disconnected and forgotten our inter-dependency with all living things on this planet we call Earth.

“Equal parts poet and scientist.”
—The New York Times

“Part Indiana Jones and part Emily Dickinson.”
—The Boston Globe

“Part naturalist, and part humanist, Sy Montgomery teaches us to nurture our nature by showing us how all living beings need to  be comfortable in their own skin and living the lives they were born to live here on earth.”
~World Wise Beauty

Sy Montgomery Closing: Thank you so much, dear Laura. It’s an honor to share with you some of the lessons I’ve learned from these beautiful and wise animals.  I know you and your readers will understand! All the best to you.





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