Growing up as the daughter of Ukrainian immigrants, I rarely sat down to a dinner table that wasn’t dressed with plates full of smoked meats, red caviar, or kotleti. But after I read Jonathan Safran Foer’s book Eating Animals, I stopped consuming animal-derived products and became an ethical vegan. Making this life-altering decision is just one of the many reasons why I love to read. Fiction or nonfiction, a thoughtful piece of writing can inspire and even change our perspectives in an instant. Because of this, I’m always looking for new books to help shape and redefine my thoughts on veganism. Based on my research, here are six vegan-related titles I’m adding to my reading list this year to help me stay inspired and “vegucated.”
1. What a Fish Knows: The Inner Lives of Our Underwater Cousins
Just how complex is the mind of a fish? According to the findings of fish ethologist Jonathan Balcombe, the answer is “very.” Fish can strategize, learn mazes more quickly than dogs can, and change their sexes to maintain social order. They’re intelligent, and the way in which humans use and often abuse them affects them more deeply than previously understood. In regards to the book, the Dalai Lama writes that Balcombe “vividly shows that fish have feelings and deserve consideration and protection like other sentient beings.”
2. The Soul of an Octopus
Many writers have likened the eight-armed, color-changing, ink-expelling, remarkably intelligent octopus to an alien, but few have admired the creature’s uniqueness in the way that Sy Montgomery does in The Soul of an Octopus, a National Book Award Finalist in 2015 that’ll make you think twice about ordering calamari or sannakji. In an interview with the National Book Foundation, Montgomery says, “what surprised me most was that a creature so unlike us was clearly capable of forming bonds with humans, and that my relationships with each individual octopus changed forever the way I understand what it means to think, to feel, and to know.”
3. A Dog’s Purpose
A Dog’s Purpose is told from the first-person perspective of a dog who contemplates the meaning of life and the human-dog connection throughout several reincarnations of himself. If that isn’t enough to draw you in, here’s something: the book has already caught the attention of animal-welfare activists after controversy surrounded the movie version. Plus, it’s a New York Times best-seller and favorite of animal lovers everywhere.
4. The Reducetarian Solution: How the Surprisingly Simple Act of Reducing the Amount of Meat in Your Diet Can Transform Your Health and the Planet
If you’re not vegan, the idea of eliminating meat, fish, eggs, and dairy entirely might overwhelm you. To remedy this, author Brian Kateman proposes that you become a “reducetarian”—just make an effort to eat less meat. In his book, readers find essays written by Peter Singer, Victoria Moran, and Seth Godin; vegan, vegetarian, and “less meat”-filled recipes; and reasons for taking the reducetarian plunge. Noam Chomsky calls it “a practical way to address the moral case for animal rights, sparing farm animals from suffering, and preserving the environment from destruction.” The Reducetarian Solution is available for preorder and will be released in April.
5. Up to This Pointe
In this young adult novel by Jennifer Longo, an aspiring ballet dancer ventures to Alaska after her dreams of joining the San Francisco Ballet are crushed. The reason this book is on this list? Harper, the protagonist, is a vegetarian. Even though the plot isn’t focused around vegan issues, it supports the cause to have veg-friendly characters represented in fiction. So if you know a teen, you might recommend to them what Booklist calls “an adventure story with lots of heart”—or just enjoy this book yourself.
6. The Humane Economy: How Innovators and Enlightened Consumers Are Transforming the Lives of Animals
If you’ve ever wanted to better understand the impact that businesses and public policies have on animal industries—and how consumers can create a more humane planet—Wayne Pacelle’s 2016 book is for you. United States Senator Cory Booker (NJ) calls it “a brilliant book that celebrates the truth: our economic wellbeing is inextricably linked to the wellbeing of animals. This book is an important moral and pragmatic blueprint for humane, enlightened prosperity for all.” The paperback edition of The Humane Economy is available for preorder and will be released in March of 2017.
Steph Spector is the director of contests and conferences at Gotham Writers Workshop and the founder/creative director of Karuṇā, a writing residency located on Animal Care Sanctuary.
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